The Longest Summer
(Foreword by Alia Akkam)
I don’t know how to swim. Perhaps that is the reason I’ve never been drawn to beaches. Sand and bathing suits are swell for others, I long told myself, but I’m just fine watching the waves lap from the boardwalk, ice cream cone in hand. On the subway, however, seeing flip flop-donning strangers slicked in sunscreen en route to Coney Island, their towels peeking out of canvas tote bags, pings of envy would easily be aroused. Deep down, I knew my fear of water was keeping me back from something more primal than a lazy afternoon at the beach: summer.
When I look at Lizabeth Nieves’ photographs for this exhibition, I see the essence of a season known for its stifling humidity and unbridled joy, a bittersweet season I no longer take for granted. In one image, a large crowd takes to the water. They are strangers, but it does not matter, for this mass of humanity is brought together by a simple desire to cool off and splash around without abandon. For a few hours, they are children once more. Then there are the two girls, far from the beach-goers, thigh-deep in water. What are they talking about—or conspiring over—we wonder? There is no homework to contend with, no school to wake up for; the plans they are hatching could go long into the night. A bikini-clad woman is sprawled out on a bright red blanket in another. She is alone with the sun, and wants to be, on her own private patch of tranquility swallowed up by the sand. These beach scenes, however, do not just reflect daytime promise. There are also hazy, quiet sunsets to contemplate, long after the revelers have taken off their sunglasses and catnapped.
Yes, the ocean is one way of enjoying a day at the beach, Lizabeth’s photos tell me, but they also reinforce that visiting the Rockaways or Fire Island—whichever aquatic destination beckons—is about savoring each dwindling second of summer. At turns quiet, raucous, pristine and haunting, it is always magical. While on the beach, we never have to say goodbye.