By Patrick Hanlon
Photographers can be brands, too. Just ask Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz or Matthew Ralston. And it’s the same for Michael Dweck who, in 2003, was the first living photographer to have a show at New York's Sotheby’s.
Michael Dweck now is publishing an expanded and revised 10th anniversary edition of one of his most famous publications, The End: Montauk, N.Y., his artful study of New York’s surferville. The new edition, which will include only 300 copies and retails for $3,000 each, includes an additional 85 new photographs not included in the original 2004 edition, as well as a controversial essay penned by Peter Beard for the original edition.
At the time, publisher Harry N. Abrams felt Beard’s essay was too provocative and had a political undertow not conducive to book sales.
“Everything Beard said has turned out to be true,” shrugs photographer Michael Dweck.
Spring is in the air in Manhattan. So perhaps it’s a timely reminder just how Summer beaches figure highly in American iconography. Not just the Beach Boys or sun-flared images bursting with sunscreen. Summer beaches have become iconic memoirs of adolescent independence and romance. Remember how both Abercrombie & Fitch and its sister retailer Hollister hijacked the American Summer to add luster and desire to their brands: A&F featured images of an Eastern summer romance with seagrass dunes and boardwalks, while Hollister plied the romantic shores of Pacific California.
Dweck’s photography is more an act of preservation. He saw the Montauk beach life he had experienced disappearing. By the end of the last century, developers were quickly spreading to the Easternmost points of Long Island as their last resort.
“I started conceptualizing the book in 2000,” says Dweck. “I knew Montauk would change and I wanted to capture the way Montauk made me feel. I didn’t want it to be sentimental or nostalgic. I wanted that collection of images to freeze Montauk.
“I had been going there since my sophomore year in high school,” remembers Dweck. “I could hide out there with my friends. My first trip was when I heard that the Rolling Stones were hanging out with Andy Warhol. When we were searching for the Rolling Stones, we found this inlet with surfers. That hidden spot began my romance with Montauk.”
Dweck is quick to point out that his work is not a documentary. “I’m not interested in documentary photography at all,” he says. His art is not a search for truth, but truth filtered through the lens of his own perspective. “I’m constructing the shot. I choose the models. I have the images in my mind before I make them. I’m taking my idealized point of view and putting that out there.”
Art tries to tell a truth. Documentaries try to tell a different truth. The truth about Montauk is what Dweck imagines, and he imagines it well.
Michael Dweck was born in Brooklyn in 1957. His father, an accountant, moved the family to Long Island, and his mother worked part-time. When the World’s Fair came to New York City in 1964, Dweck’s father bought him a camera. While his parents were at work, Dweck would remove the tube from the television set.
“I put my little brother in there,” says Dweck. When Michael visited nearby Jones Beach, he asked girls to pose for him.
“The camera was a good way to put people’s guard down and let me in,” he says.
After high school, Dweck studied architecture at Pratt Institute. His major was short-lived, however, when the department asked him to leave. “They said there was no room for humor in architecture,” says Dweck. Students were asked to design a house for someone famous, and Dweck designed a house for Kentucky Fried Chicken’s famous Colonel Sanders.
Say no more.
Summer holds its own sun-drenched iconography: hot sand, convertibles, bubbly sodas, bikinis, sunglasses and unaware boys and girls. From Jones Beach to the The Hamptons to Montauk, the strip of terra called Long Island produces its own particular sense of Summer and Dweck passionately captures it all. As he writes in the essay that begins his first edition of The End: Montauk, N.Y. “By and large, these are kids who are the same age I was when I first fell in love with the place. They are beautiful and sexy and tribal in a way no one who hasn’t been part of a surf community can understand.”
The big houses stand along the coast of Long Island, looming sentinels mocked by sun sand winds and tide. Nature’s elements know exactly how fragile and fleeting these human constructions are, even as they spread further and further out toward the sea. Gone in a wisp. Meanwhile, children dance between waves and moon, partying until dawn, knowing their Summer will be ending soon.
These days, Dweck divides his time between Montauk and New York City. Dweck has published several other books of photography, including Mermaids and Habana Libre. Will they also be re-released?
“I’m not sure,” says Dweck. “Habana is also my idealized view, and Havana has completely changed in the last year and a half.” Dweck pauses. “It’s a possibility.”
The five thousand copies printed for the 2004 edition of The End: Montauk, N.Y. sold out in three weeks. The new updated edition being published by Ditch Plains Press, is printed on Garda papers made in Italy, and comes to happy buyers with a box handmade in Tokyo. Printed in Vicenza, Italy, there will be only 300 copies of the 10th Anniversary Art Edition Box Set (books are signed and numbered and sold with a silver gelatin print). Fittingly, the new 11x14-in edition becomes available July 4, 2016.
A portion of sale proceeds will be donated to Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Conservancy and Splash, charities that help keep oceans clean.
What remains of Dweck’s imagination is a young woman prancing naked across the sand, the surfboard tucked under her arm as a banner ad for all that is summer: freedom, salty air and a warm rock and roll sun.
Says Dweck, “If my book, even in some small way, hastens the demise of the lifestyle it seeks to glorify, then I’ve shot myself in the foot.”