Montauk: Winter Landscapes + Lunches

In keeping with my incredible timing, I’m writing this post about photographing beaches in Montauk in the winter on the first day of spring.  As I’m sure is at least a little obvious from my previous post, I am definitely not cool enough to make weekly pilgrimages to the Hamptons in the summer. This is mostly because I don’t super love rosé and my legs are too gangly and long to gracefully get in or out of those super cute inflatable swans without totally capsizing. Also- my barely repressed agoraphobia. All my personal flaws aside, I have been a handful of times and despite my cynicism, really enjoyed it. Here is why: 1. Lobsters 2. Sunset motorcycle rides along the beach 3. Roadside farmer’s markets 4. That impossible coupling of a yearning nostalgia for a certain Americana with the raw freshness and vigor of the potential energy of summer which only manifests itself in the most special of places.

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The authenticity that this place manages to exude despite literal trains of generic party-hungry weekenders unloading weekly onto its otherwise peaceful beaches is a testament to its integrity to its own particular identity. But integrity isn’t a seasonal affliction so when asked to photograph the winter scenery in Montauk for an upcoming Manhattan restaurant taking inspirational cues from experiences had “out east” I hit the road with a super heavy old Mamiya, a shit load of film and fifty percent less clothing than I should have worn.

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There are a couple of things I didn’t anticipate. To start, tripods in sand dunes are real tricky. I wanted to feel like Ansel Adams (don’t we all). Instead I felt like I was doing a dysfunctional tango with a three legged man. A monopod would have been a way less idiotic choice. Next time. Then, getting bamboozled by a frigid wave. The pristine stillness of the landscape there in the winter is deceptive. The ocean won (it always does). My Chuck Taylor’s lost. Also, traffic - both pedestrian and vehicular. Granted this was the week before Christmas but it was town after (festively decorated) town showing serious signs of life. It was nice to see that the appeal of this place reached passed fair-weather tourism. Also I felt instantly more confident about my lunch options!

Finally, lunch! While it’s usually against my better judgement to order food from a bar (especially one named Shagwongs) that isn’t fried, how could I justify being all the way out in Montauk, at the End of the World, and not ordering the local oysters? Begin tangent: historically oysters are the Northern seaboard’s quintessential bar food and I feel strongly that we’re really fucking up the whole experience by gentrifying it with our precious forks and our lemongrass infused mignonette. For more on this, please refer to Mark Kurlansky’s The Big Oyster. Thank me later. End tangent. So, the oysters, Montauk Pearls, are the real reason I fell in love with Montauk in the winter. Bright. Crisp, Just briney enough, just sweet enough. Perfect. So perfect that I was doing that shocked, wide-eyed breathy chuckle thing people do when they’re completely thrown and bewildered by the simple perfection of a bite of food. Having spent the day among the dunes wrestling with the austerity of the weather and the winter landscape, it amazed me how acutely all of that had been distilled into these small bites. Behind me, the bartender pointed out the oyster farmer drinking a beer and himself having a dozen; a tall man, skin lightly windburned wearing a Carhart, worn but still hanging on, as they do. It would have been a perfect portrait but he, like I had been, seemed too ensconced in the transcendence of the oysters in front of him that I couldn’t justify interrupting. Some things are sacred. I feel very much that Montauk in the winter is one of them.