The ocean is one heck of a muse, inspiring so many of our most in-demand artworks. We’ve got to think that has a lot to do with its changeability, ranging wildly not just from coast to coast, but from day to day, moment to moment, perspective to perspective. There’s always something new to see. Something like Surf School, Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA—our newest edition from award-winning photographer and longtime 20x200 artist Ian Baguskas.
Bay Area locals know the beach scene can often be a foggy affair, and SF’s Ocean Beach is no exception. Spanning the entire Sunset District and adjacent to Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach runs along the western edge of San Francisco. At night, you might see bonfires burning on the shore, but during the day it’s a surfing hotspot. The waves can be intimidating and unpredictable, with big swells and powerful currents that aren’t for the faint of heart, but Ocean Beach has long been considered one of the best beach breaks in Northern California. Since it’s usually cold, surfers are wise to wear a thick wetsuit, like the students returning from a morning lesson in Surf School, Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA. Their brightly colored boards and accessories break through the fog almost apparition-like, their blurred shapes and silvery shadows taking on a watercolor quality in the eerie early light. In the distance, you can make out a few other floating figures, and what looks to be some kind of land mass, but much of the frame is filled by a solid gray sky. Baguskas often composes his photos so the sky has plenty of breathing room—a visual cue to meditate on the image, to inhale, exhale and consider the view with an open, inquisitive mind.
As part of his ongoing Searching series, Baguskas has photographed various recreational areas throughout America, endeavoring to explore the deeply human desire to interact with nature and soak up scenic beauty—and what that really means in our modern world. Much like in his earlier edition Lifeguard Stand, Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York, the muted fluorescents in Surf School, Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA are subtle intimations of something artificial, of human invention intruding on even one Earth’s more enveloping atmospheric phenomena. There’s a contrast here between Northern California’s untamed coastline and those who don their technical gear and seek professional training so they might penetrate the waves and commune with the Pacific. It’s a soft contrast, present but not pointed, not so much an instance of irony as it is an unanswered question. Can we get whatever we need from experiencing nature if the tools of our approach keep us tied to a manufactured modern world?
Asking the unanswerable in a whisper, trafficking in the quietly contemplative—Baguskas has an instinct for these slippery sorts of things, knowing just how to capture them in his images. It’s his gift for the open-ended that’ll keep you coming back to his photographs, the beauty of the liminal that’ll enchant you. It’s artworks like Surf School, Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA that’ll press pause on your everyday.
With art for everyone,