On a frigid January day I took the N train to Coney Island to photograph this place of summertime frolicking and fun, during its off season. Exiting the station my eyes immediately fell upon the infamous Nathan’s hot dog stand, a bright yellow building on the corner of Surf & Stillwell Avenues. This main stay of Coney Island is usually a bustling hive for hundreds of hungry beach-goers, but in winter’s grip it was shut up tight as a tomb and surrounded by a cold desolate street. Also closed were the clam shops, burger joints, pizza parlors and soda palaces and as I walked past these places of culinary pleasures not a soul did I see, not a sound did I hear.
I wanted to see what it was like to walk the boardwalk, windblown with snow instead of sand. To photograph the once whirling rides, now unmoving and mummified in their private cages, surrounded by ice and snow instead of ice cream and cotton candy. Instead of children screeching, laughing and running wild the only screeching and wildness came from the gulls that soared overhead. There was a stillness that during the warmer months is unwonted. The Wonder Wheel – an unmovable object; the Cyclone – an abstract fixture; a water slide – a ski slalom. All the jostling, whirling, spinning, shooting, jumping, galloping, colliding, swooping, popping, screaming machinery of seaside amusements – mute, reserved, hushed, hibernating until the spring releases them all from the cold bonds of winter to live again.
The sand mixed with the snow, resembling melted coffee and vanilla ice cream, swirled together in beautiful patterns. The sand was hard and my feet did not sink deeply, softly into it as they would have during the heat of July or August. There was a crusty rhyme of frozen salt water along the edges of the shoreline and I found a piece of sea glass, smoothed from years in the tumbling ocean, cemented by the extreme cold into the sand. The gulls, totally indifferent to the changes in the weather, strolled along the shore, their flat footed feeties splashing in the ice cold water and I instinctively curled my toes tighter into my boots.
The jetty’s rocks and aged wooden pylons were turned into oceanic ice sculptures created by the remorseless waves of the Atlantic. A low long row of weather worn stumps, capped in ice, looked like the giant molars of a dinosaur. The ocean itself at this time of year seemed transformed from a peaceful, cooling, rolling friend of hot summer days, to a raw powerful being whose arctic embrace would surely stop your heart in mid-beat. These jetties, sturdy and strong, with their burden of thick ice and blasting winds gained a majestic winter beauty that my camera captured with alacrity.
Finally, the cold became too much for me and I noticed too, that the sun had pulled a grey cloak of cloud around itself and I turned my back on the raucous sea and walked toward the waiting train.