August 26, 2009

Kennedy & the Ocean

It's 4am. Edward Kennedy died a few hours ago. On hearing the news, I immediately thought back to second time I saw the man in person. It was a black tie event here in New York. He was stuffed into a tuxedo, red faced, tired, and seemingly bored with the gaggle of bejeweled dowagers surrounding him. This was in the early 90s. I had seen him many years earlier on a junior high trip to Washington D.C. We were on a tour of the Capitol building. This was well before the era of 9/11 and you could pretty much roam the halls. The group was looking for our local congressman's office, and while navigating a narrow hallway, Kennedy hustled by, a man in a hurry, carrying nothing and being trailed by several young aides. A teacher in my group shouted "Senator Kennedy!" Perhaps it was her thick East Texas accent that made him turn. He brightened, "Welcome to the Washington everyone," he said in that voice. That voice was startling, it made him real. I waved and he waved back. I could have sworn the wave was for me even though the rest of the class waved as well. That stuck with me.

So when I saw him all those years later, stuck at that table I had the ridiculous thought that a wave from the crowd would lighten his mood. I convinced my date to wave with me. Kennedy seemed to notice us for a second, but then quickly went back to looking bored. The second memory started to color the first.

The third time I saw Kennedy in person was a few years later, I had flow to Hyannis Port from from California for a fall wedding. After arriving I escaped the hotel/wedding party for a walk along the shore. It was drizzling and cold, not good walking weather, or good beach weather, but I needed to stretch my legs. The beach was empty save for a solitary figure in the far distance. I wasn't until I got close that I realized it was Kennedy. He was wearing a windbreaker and staring out to sea, hands in his pockets. He was a big hippopotamus of a man, wind whipping his hair around, but he was calm. He stood there for a very long time. What does a guy with that much incident in his life think about in those moments? Policy? Fending off enemies? Family? His aches and pains? I thought about how in the tiniest way I had been part of the noisy background of his life and how nice it must be for someone like him to look out into the empty ocean without yappy people constantly vying for attention.

Later that weekend I remember trying to take pictures of the sea. This is something virtually everyone who owns a camera does at some point no matter how banal the results. Virtually all of us have sat there staring out at the sea and wanted to hold on to that feeling. The sea connects us in some strange way because that mental frame of sky / horizon / water is so powerful. Sugimoto suggests (rightly) that that frame is one of our most primal visions.

Here are three seascapes. I could have just as easily picked 6 or 16. Here are 3 more and some more. I believe we all carry these images around even when we are landlocked, even when can't take solitary walks in the rain.

wolfgang.jpgWolfgang Uhlig

yumiko.jpgYumiko Kinoshita

olaf2.jpgOlaf Otto Beck

posted at 04:14 AM by raul

Filed under: night musings

TAGS: Kennedy (1) memory (15) ocean (4) oceanscape (1) the sea (3)


08/27/09 05:42 AM

You might enjoy these medium format photos of the ocean taken from within the water at the 40-foot; the Dublin swimming spot immortalized by James Joyce in Chapter 1 of "Ulysses" ("stately plump Buck Mulligan...").

Artist is Gary Coyle. His father was my art teacher. Both are inspirational. As is Joyce. And your blog...


08/27/09 11:37 AM

Beautiful open and empty photographs! personifies how the relations and friends must be feeling.

08/27/09 12:20 PM

Nice recollection...

I'm from Massachusetts and sometimes it seems we've all had Kennedy encounters and it's funny how we all wanted a piece of the guy... and he seemed to love it. But man what a toll the spotlight put on that family.

Here's another photographer's take on slightly less empty beaches... I like the one with tracks on the beach.

08/27/09 09:24 PM

I really like how the three insignificant in and of themselves glimpses of a famous man add up to something. Of all the Kennedy theatrics in the media this is the one recollection that actually adds up to something for me. You always paint good word pictures.

08/28/09 01:33 AM

08/28/09 04:45 PM

Here's an idea. If you guys send me enough 'Empty Sea' pictures, I'll round them all up and publish them together in one post.

09/04/09 11:20 AM

Add your thoughts: