On a windswept Sunday afternoon above Greenport’s 67 Steps Beach, photographer EJ Camp is gathering gear from the back of her truck. After pulling on thigh-high rubber waders, she grabs her medium-format Leica 5 camera and tripod … and signature Nick Fouquet designer trail hat. She’s the subject of today’s photo shoot after all, and after photographing hundreds of commercial and editorial assignments from behind the camera, she knows exactly what’s needed to step out in front.
Camp’s keen eye and illustrious four-decade career in New York and Los Angeles has turned rock stars, models and celebrities into legends. From movie posters like “Top Gun” (where she repositioned F-14s alongside fellow Kentucky native Tom Cruise) and “Forrest Gump” (breaking convention by capturing Tom Hanks from the back surrounded by white space) to Billy Idol sneering on Rolling Stone covers, she’s always had a fascination with personality.
These days, this Orient resident is enamored with the biggest, moodiest and most unpredictable personality of them all — the sea.
“People always ask how I could go from photographing people to shooting the sea, but it’s really not all that different,” Camp says. “It’s still about the interplay of light and shadow. Plus, waiting for that perfect moment on the water can be like waiting for a smile.”
It’s an understatement to say that Camp is enamored with the East End. An avid sailor, she’s been coming to the region for over 35 years, even when she lived in California. “There’s just such a sense of community and identity around being on the water here, what with the Sound, bays and ocean at every turn. I’ve literally been to every single strip of beach. Plus, as a photographer, there’s such drama with the skies always changing and darkening with the seasons,” she says. “On the flip side, the Pacific Ocean literally means ‘peaceful.’ It’s not passionate; just easy rolling waves and a big blue sky!”
Camp prefers to shoot North Fork seascapes in winter, when clouds push down toward the horizon with visual tension, and clear waters draw the eye down to rocks below. “The water can sometimes be so calm it reflects the sky like a mirror,” notes Camp, who doesn’t want so much as a bird in the shot unless a heightened compositional value draws focus back to the water.
To capture the sea’s “many expressions,” Camp usually works in color to bring out the water’s nuances, using a long exposure for a softer, more painterly effect. She opts for black-and-white when the light is flat and the approach more graphic. Printing large format heightens the drama, and actually got her started in this new career phase. At a party with friends at the Orient Yacht Club years ago, she suspended oversized seascapes from the rafters. The response was so positive, this celebrity/fashion/portrait photographer started shooting seascapes full time.
GLACIAL ERRATICS: NORTH FORK ROCK STARS
Despite Camp’s extensive rock ‘n’ roll portfolio, she prefers to wax poetic about the North Fork’s very own rock stars — the glacial erratics. “These massive boulders were brought here by the glaciers that formed Long Island and got left behind when the glaciers retreated,” says Camp. “Glacial erratics literally don’t belong here. But they have such interesting pasts and form such dramatic forms in and along the water.”
Another plus? They stand silent.
“Shooting seascapes is such a reprieve from my commercial work, where there’d be 40 people standing behind me giving their opinions,” laughs Camp. Today, she prefers trekking to beach locations solo, not even using an assistant. “With my seascapes, it’s a zen-like experience. It’s just me and the sea. And when I’m done, I have a photograph that’s all mine.”
But don’t be fooled. Getting that perfect shot isn’t easy, even for photographers with Camp’s finely honed skill and the North Fork’s inherent beauty. “When it comes to seascapes and my body of work, there aren’t a ton of shots. Overall, I’d say 1 in 30 or 40 trips to the water will yield something I can actually use.”
Camp’s advice to amateur photographers (basically anyone with a smartphone) shooting the sea? “You have to wait. I see people drive up to a beach, run down, take a picture and leave. You have to see what happens next. My schooling is in portraiture, where you take the picture, but then you try something new. Maybe you move the camera higher or lower, or try a new angle.”
It’s all about patience.”
Luckily, these rocks aren’t going anywhere.