The images in Chris Bickford’s book Legends of the Sandbar are black and white, but his world is anything but monochromatic.
The photographs are what shape the creative energy of the book, and although they are colorless, the images tell startling stories. Some of the photographs seem to leap from the page, the people and settings crisp and precise; other images have a life of their own, muted shadows and blurred figures suggesting a world just beyond our reach.
Legends of the Sandbar is driven by the photographs seen through Bickford’s eye and his ability to create something at once otherworldly yet recognizable. What sets this book apart, though, is the narrative that is integrated with the images.
The section “Rememberings” turns chapters over to some of the legends of the Outer Banks surf scene.
Jim Bunch, who is known for his books and research on the sunken U-Boats off the North Carolina coast, tells the story of when he came back to the Outer Banks from his time in Florida. What emerges is a wonderful memory of surfing off Kitty Hawk Pier in the 1960s.
Most of the writing is Bickford’s, much of it describing the magic of being on the water or watching how the waves are breaking. Yet there are also tales of the bittersweet nature of living on a sandbar and stories of loss.
His chapter on legendary surf photographer Mickey McCarthy, who passed away in 2015, is powerful. Never self-pitying or maudlin, the story unfolds, and what emerges is the clear impression that Mickey made on the Outer Banks community.
He ends the chapter writing, “I keep thinking I’m gonna see him out there at Avalon or somewhere next time the swell gets good…” the observation more compelling because of the story Bickford tells.
There is something transformative to being in the water or searching for a perfect break, and Bickford’s writing takes the reader there. The expectation after a storm passes and the wait for what the sea will give.
“Days of anticipation over an approaching swell can end in total disappointment. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, beautiful clean lines of peaky A-frames or spitting barrels appear—rippable, shacking walls of pure energy—despite all predictions to the contrary…The only thing to do is to rise at dawn with coffee in your cup and a prayer in your heart, and go get wet.”
Ultimately, though, this book is about the images…the extraordinary ability of Bickford to create color in a black and white world. To bring to life shadows and shades of gray, the ocean, waves, spray and the people who run to the sea for the experience of magic.
“And the visuals,” he writes. “The God-light, the green room, the sparkle of midday, the rage glory of late-afternoon. There are few more sublime moment to experience in life that that of sitting out in the lineup on a perfect eventing with three or four friends, sometime around sunset, watching the world turn into a blazing canvas of reds, yellows, magentas, blues—sometimes even greens—and catching wave after wave as the day fades.”
The book is a soft-cover coffee table sized book. The paper is a quality heavy stock, so it’s an investment that you’ll be able to enjoy for a while.
Images courtesy of Chris Bickford