Photographer Alexander Kargaltsev: Long Island Lifeguards

DailyStoke Team

Alexander Kargaltsev grew up in Moscow, about as far away from the sea as possible.  Arriving to a new life in New York on 4 July 2010, the photographer soon moved to Brooklyn, with the ocean not far away.

He was fascinated by the sea and the life of the beach: savouring the salt-smell transported him to new states of contentment. His exploration of Long Island took him to Long Beach, where six miles of sand stretch to the far horizon and where natives of both areas enjoy the long summer days. It’s a family place, an ordinary place, a place where small dramas punctuate the rolling of the waves and the gusts of sea breeze.

Long Beach Lifeguards

Protecting the holiday-makers are the lifeguards, who scan the beaches during the daytime hours. In Europe, lifeguards are relatively rare outside swimming pools. On the tranquil beaches of the Mediterranean and the cooler northern climes, bathers have to fend for themselves. Only on the Atlantic beaches are lifeguards found, as in the United States.

At Long Beach, Kargaltsev spent a day tramping the beach photographing, getting sunburnt in the process and suffering for his art,  interviewing the lifeguards and formulating the project: One Beach, One Day, One Book.

Using medium format, digital, 3D and his favourite polaroid cameras, Kargaltsev captures the wide variety of subjects, immediately dispelling any preconceptions of what we might imagine a lifeguard to be: an ordinary person, doing an extraordinary job. Our lives depend on them. Kargaltsev does not always set his subjects at their ease.

Several seem shy and timorous, at odds with our ideas of a lifeguard: strong, but holding back, reserved, perhaps unsure why they are the subject of a photograph for a book. Others seem more assured, the older men, the women, in pairs and single, the kid who’s just 16 years old. Still, others seem to swagger, moving towards over-confidence.

Who would be best to save us?

The variety of attire is striking, reflecting the confidence of the subject, as they hold the floats (torps) like a rifle or a prop. The intensity of the images—statuesque on the snow-white sand—is striking. But that’s only half the story. Kargaltsev is a cunning and shrewd observer: with him the background is as important as the subject.

Many of the photographs have an almost musical counterpoint: the statue-like figure contrasted against busy backgrounds, many of which could almost belong to a different age, a land of lost content: family holidays, real lives.  

In several, the subject seems to tower over the other people, seemingly standing on a camouflaged eminence, apart from the families and the children. Among the most striking of the images here is the muscular guy lightly holding the torp, standing almost remote from the background, which could be straight out of an American family magazine of the 1950s.

And the shadows (watch the shadows), they too play their part in defining the meaning of the image. The prevailing mood of many of the photographs, ironically, is of a serene sadness, a melancholic look on those happy, forgotten summer days. The loneliness of the lifeguards prevails.

Alexander Kargaltsev’s flickr.

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