Douglas Ljungkvist is a Brooklyn based fine art photographer originally from Sweden. His personal work explores vernacular beauty that is graphic, colorful, and quiet. Mood and atmosphere are important aspects to the work that often have subtexts of time, memory and identity. Formally, he is interested in the study of color, form, and space. Douglas has received several prestigious awards including Winner of PDN Photo Annual, Winner of New York Photo Festival Invitational, Gold Px3 Best Fine Art Book proposal, National Geographic “Great Outdoors”, and numerous finalists and honorable mentions. His work has also been exhibited both in the US and Europe, including a solo show at the 2013 Photoville Festival. His Ocean Beach monograph was published by Kehrer Verlag in April of 2014.
It was 1946 when Fred Pearl and his partner Edward Patnaude purchased a tract of land, then desolate and brush-filled, just north of Lavallette NJ. Two laundry deliverymen who over the next 20 years turned this tract into a vacation paradise named “Ocean Beach.” Their vision was to build affordable beach houses for working-class families. They began by building basic one- and two-bedroom cottages that started at $2,095 and were merely four walls and a roof with no paneling or insulation.
Sales were transacted casually; Pearl worked out of what he called his “mobile” office — which was the trunk of his car. Each business day, he set up a wooden sign along the highway that read, “Houses for Sale.” At that time, all that was required to secure your cottage was a $10 deposit and a handshake. The first sale contract was signed on July 20, 1946.
Ocean Beach :
This project is study of a unique place in the American landscape that appeals to my vernacular taste and sense of style and order.
The cottages at Ocean Beach (NJ), some might say, are nothing more than oversized trailers. They are laid out in a symmetrical grid in three units, with the democratic and institutional sounding names Unit I, II, III, that total over 2,000 cottages. The streets, still made up of sand in Unit III, adds to the sparse and strong sense of place.
Photographing there in the off season allows me to de-contextualize the cottages from their vacation purpose. From a formal perspective, color, form and spatial relationships are studied. Here color helps to create individuality among uniformity in the architectural landscape. I have temporarily “borrowed” select cottage interiors to conceptually create fragmented self portraits using found or personal items. This allows me to explore the project subtexts of time, memory, and identity.
The interiors have hardly any decorations creating an abstract time stamp and few clues as to who the owners are. The bedrooms are utilitarian in nature and minimal in size to where they straddle the line between intimate and claustrophobic.
As a photographer I am interested in the cottages still showing signs of a bygone era when wood paneling, vibrant colors, and kitsch decorations were the order of the day. I always felt it was a race against time to visually preserve the cottages. That was based on the rapid pace of cottages being renovated and modernized to attract more potential vacationers on the competitive rental market.
Unfortunately, Ocean Beach was one of the hardest hit when Superstorm Sandy made landfall in late October, 2012. 90% of the ocean facing cottages at were destroyed and have since been demolished. Many more were destroyed from the inside by standing water when the ocean and bay waters met on the thin barrier island. As the project was completed before the storm my initial instinct was that I didn’t want to document the post-storm landscape. Not having access for two months helped change my mind and better understanding the historical importance, too.
Gone though was the quiet and solitary work process I had come to love. Now the place was bustling with homeowners, police patrols, curious day-trippers, demolition, construction, and utility companies. And gone was the feeling of time standing still at Ocean Beach. I guess it’s true, nothing lasts forever!
Though I didn’t set out to document the frail relationship between man and nature, I guess in retrospect one could say it’s partly what the project came to represent, from an objective perspective.
To view more of Douglas’ work, please visit his website.