Category Archives: black & white photography

Vintage Surf

It’s been a year since my lifelong friend, Robin, passed away, so I’ve been contemplating our relationship and good times. It’s hard to believe it’s over and done. We all have opportunities to love and enjoy life, and Robin certainly did. What a gift!

His worldly possessions have been dispersed as he wanted. Among the items he left me was a fairly large collection of photographs. He was many things, hunter-gatherer, prolific reader, jack of all trades and surfer. Most people don’t realize the amount of photography he produced.

I spent last winter going over thousands of photos he made since his early teens. Many of those images were inconsequential personal memories, but there are many that have merit.

northside Taken from the north jetty.

Of particular interest to me are Robin’s photographs contained in an album from his early days surfing at Indian River Inlet in Delaware. I didn’t know him then, but it’s about the time I learned to surf a 9’6” Bing there. It was a good wave and a good place for a young surfer to make friends and integrate into a new lifestyle.

These old Polaroid photographs taken in 1967 and ’68 are one-of-a-kind originals.

longboards I think Robin is on the far right, the others are unidentified.

surfari I don’t know where this Polaroid was taken, but it looks typical of rural Delaware.            A 19 year old Robin stands between two unidentified friends while changing a flat tire.

gemini 1 A few years later, surfboards got a lot smaller. Robin took this snapshot of his team mates from Gemini Surf Shop out of Rehoboth Beach, perhaps about 1970. Dave Isaacs, Gary Revel, Jeff Ammons, Bryant Clark, Brent Clark, Skip Savage, Karl Gude and one unidentified. Who knows who he is?

When most people take a picture, they don’t realize they’re making a historical record. As a photographer, I didn’t intend the pictures I took many years ago become history. But in retrospect, I see a lot of value in old photographs, the older the better. If I had it to do all over again, I would opt to do much more shooting of people or things that I routinely took for granted.

Jim Henry

In the late 70’s, when I moved to a house in North Rodanthe, there wasn’t much around at the time… only a few beach boxes with several old family homesteads scattered about. Most prominent in the neighborhood was the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station complex. I used to wander over and take a lot of pictures of the buildings and surroundings. Part of the allure for me was the dilapidated state of the place. It was a palette for some wonderful photography.

Restoration had not yet begun and it was wide open. It was there that I met an older, gray-haired man who also had an appreciation for the place. He was a federal employee working as an economist for the Civil Aeronautics Board, and was nearing the end of his career in Washington, DC. Jim Henry had been visiting the area for years and purchased a tract of land from ocean to sound in 1953 for $3000. His dream was to build a nice house there and live out his retirement.

Meanwhile the Chicamacomico Historical Association, the non-profit incorporated in 1974 to promote and restore the old station, was having problems with a lack of good leadership. Long story made short, Jim was suddenly thrust with taking charge of that responsibility. In 1982 he was elected to manage the organization as it’s president. He had an appreciation for the finer things in life, was well-traveled, educated, loved opera and a martini. At the same time he enjoyed the simple life that the villages had to offer.

One of his first tasks was to rehabilitate and open up the main 1911 building to the public. That included getting it weathered in. Through a series of state and federal matching grants, Jim raised $44,000 to finance a new cedar shingled roof and other exterior projects.

As a result on May 1, 1984, Jim was invited to Washington to give a presentation before the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. It was there that Jim accepted a prestigious award on behalf of the Chicamacomico Historical Association, largely because of his efforts.

Later he gathered historical photographs to mount exhibits. That’s when Jim met with me. My studio was up and running nearby, and he hired me to make printed copies from archived photographs. I mounted hand-made sepia toned prints on foam board, and those became the first exhibits displayed on the station’s first floor.

The boatroom of the main building got cleaned up. There was battleship linoleum glued on top of beautiful heart pine flooring, not to mention lead paint covering the walls.

From then on, I was a willing helper to Jim. The Chicamacomico Historical Association rewarded me with a lifetime membership, and subsequently invited me to join the board of directors. I can’t count the number of times that Jim would pull up in my driveway to get some advice or assistance. I’d roll my eyes back and think, “oh, here we go again”. He was somewhat a persistent pain, but I too loved the old station, and always caved in to help.

In 1988 we acquired a collection of shipwreck name boards from the Fearing family. An exhibit was mounted in the small boathouse. Jim presided at the grand opening. Fearing family representatives were present along with association members, Coast Guard personnel, historians and media. Jim was really proud of this display to educate the public about shipwrecks.

No individual has done so much to save Chicamacomico as Jim Henry. When no one else stepped up to the plate. Jim did. He wanted to tell the station’s history, get it properly restored, and always have free admission to the public. It was a labor of love. He came to the rescue, just in time to save it from falling apart.

An early morning beach stroller, Jim often came back with what he called “treasures from the sea”. Here he holds a lower jaw from a walrus, deposited thousands of years ago during glacial migration through the Chesapeake Bay.

In 1992, Jim passed away after a short illness, and I was elected to the unenviable position of president for the next 6 years. That’s another story.

North Rodanthe Aerial

North Rodanthe is on the edge. From the late 70’s through the late 80’s, I lived in a small house on highway 12 where I set up business selling my prints. The town had eluded much development. There was very little infrastructure, no cable tv, no central water, power outages and flooding were relatively common.

At the time, I was young and more resilient. The locality was my oyster, so to speak. I ate waterfowl, seafood, surfed my brains out, and made photographic prints for a livelihood. I enjoyed the relative isolation of Rodanthe, and reveled the stormy conditions as occasional photographic subjects.

I made these aerial photographs of the north end of Rodanthe around 1980. There were very few beach cottages at the time, and Mirlo Beach subdivision wasn’t even a pipe dream yet.

North Rodanthe in 1980. The “Rodanthe Creek”, where the current ferry terminal is located, is on the lower right.

The view looking east shows Rodanthe Creek and Chicamacomico property all the way to the beach. My house at the time is located in the center of the picture, right on highway 12.

Those were the days!

Fishing with BJ

When I moved to the island decades ago, some of the first people I met were transplants from Michigan. Tim and Karen Merritt were a young married couple that had relocated to Salvo a couple of years prior to my arrival. Along with them was Tim’s long time friend, Brian Huff. They grew up with each other. Better known as BJ, he was different than many of my newfound friends in that he didn’t surf. He loved walking the beach, enjoying the place, its people, and he truly loved fishing. We became close friends.

1972 was a good year for drum fishing on the Hatteras Island Fishing Pier in Rodanthe. As a matter of fact, it was the same year that Elvin Hooper set the world record with a 90 pounder. In this photo taken by a pier employee, Tim Merritt (left) and BJ Huff (right) display their big drum, also known as channel bass. They were in excess of 50 pounds each. The pier was longer then, and the best fishing was in the worst weather.

A few years later in 1975, the locals were catching some sizable sharks, mostly late at night. It took BJ over an hour to land this hammerhead. There were some appreciative onlookers that night. They posed with BJ for this photograph. From left to right: Bruce Midgett, Larry Midgett, BJ, Butch Luke, Tim Merritt and Jimmy Hooper. The shark was cleaned and all the meat packaged. Our freezer was stocked, that is until we tried eating it. It was full of cartilage and unpalatable. As much as we didn’t want to waste any, it all had to be thrown out.

New Inlet up on Pea Island was one of our favorite spots. I used to walk out on the old bridge, and hang strings with chicken necks over the side. I always brought home a good catch of hard crabs. At one point, BJ learned where the deep holes and channels were located. He would cast sting ray grubs on to the edges and catch flounders or speckled trout. I took this photo of him casting in 1975.

BJ enjoyed fishing the waters of Pamlico Sound. Our friend Gary Bishop had a boat and took us out at Hatteras to a spot called the cobia stake. It was named for a channel marker piling near the inlet. In this photo taken around 1976, BJ reels in a nice cobia. Gary caught two. By the time we made it back home, it was getting dark. We went to the pier at Rodanthe to weigh and clean them, when I took this photograph below.

BJ and I were roommates for about 2 years. We lived in a trailer in Salvo rented from Barbara Midgett for $200 a month. It had 3 bedrooms. One for each of us, and one for my darkroom. During that time, our lives were relatively carefree. All we worried about was making enough to feed ourselves and pay the rent. BJ also had the pressure of making payments for his nice GMC pickup truck. Most of us drove vehicles that had tendencies to break down. BJ was always kind enough to let us use his dependable truck in a pinch.

March of ’78 was a cold one. We kept warm by chopping wood gathered on the beach. There were plenty of oak planks washing in back then. Note BJ’s 16 foot wooden skiff in the background. He bought the boat from Les Hooper.

Inside was warm and cozy, even when the electricity went off. We had no TV, only a KLH turntable to spin a meager record collection. We listened to jazz and blues, mostly. The parlor stove was given to me by my Aunt Jo. She had just moved out of an old house, in San Marino California, where General Patton was born. That stove was a very functional piece of history. We used a cinder block to replace the missing rear legs. The stove eventually cracked and fell apart. To replace it, BJ bought a big pot bellied stove from Les Hooper.

BJ did a lot of beach-combing. Most of the time, he’d bring home some seashells or driftwood. Sometimes the bluefish would be running, pursuing bait and other fish. One day he caught this nice trout without a fishing rod, picking it up with his bare hands, right off the beach. Photograph below was taken in 1977.

Another day in 1977, BJ found something very unusual. We had no idea what it was, and used it as a bookend for over a year. As I recall, it also made a good door stop.

My girlfriend at the time was a college student, and very curiously took it to be examined at the Smithsonian in Washington. It turned out to be a 10 to 20 thousand year old molar from a wooly mammoth, a significant find indeed.

Around 1980, BJ and I were building a saltbox in Buxton Woods for friends, Jim and Marcia Lyons. During construction the fishing got good, so Jim and BJ left for a short time and returned with a stringer of gray trout. We always ate well.

In 1980, I had been working for Alex Kotarides a few years. He owned a large bakery in Norfolk, but had an estate in Salvo. I did waterfowl hunting guide work for him in the winter. Other times, I worked odd jobs for Alex, including construction of the new house, raising ducks and geese, then a stint at commercial fishing that Spring. I got BJ to help me.

We used 3000 yards of gill net, plus had access to Alex’s small fleet of boats. We fished half the nets in shallow water near Gull Island. The other half we set in deeper water past the reef. We had good results, out catching the locals nearly every day. In this shot taken by BJ, I had just pulled in a nice red drum from the deeper water. It was a beautiful sight to behold, glowing in the submerged net below. We were fishing in a 23 foot Sea Ox at the time.

Other times we fished from a 21 foot wooden boat, called Falcon, built by Willy Austin in Avon. It had an inboard 4-cylinder Ford Pinto engine set up for marine use. It was a nice handling boat with a full keel. We loaded up with fish for a month before retiring the rig when the bull nosed skates migrated through Pamlico Sound.

That was the last fishing I did with BJ. He went on to live in Avon working construction, got a girlfriend, married her and they had a baby boy. They moved back to Michigan, and split up after a while.

I didn’t see BJ for years. He remarried, had a daughter and moved to Charlotte. He came back briefly, perhaps 20 years ago. He did some exceptional restoration work for us at the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, then returned to Charlotte.

After a prolonged absence from the island, BJ suddenly showed up at my gallery door one day just a few years ago. Expecting a gallery customer, I must have had an expression of un-recognition on my face, only to hear him say, “BJ”. I knew then, it was my good friend again.

I could tell that he missed Hatteras Island, yet still felt a close connection. He returned several more times, looking up lots of old friends. He seemed to rediscover himself. It was great to see him again. He returned Spring of 2011 and spent the weekend with me.

Back in Charlotte, he kept in touch by telephone. A pain in his shoulder caused him to see a doctor. It was cancer. I spoke to him a few more times before Hurricane Irene. The storm made our phone service go down. BJ tried to call again, but was unable to get through. I didn’t speak with BJ again. He passed away on September 6, a week after the storm. He was 61 and will be missed by many.

Thanks for the memories, BJ!