Into The Wild Wood
photographs by Annie Morton
Wildwood, a laid-back beach town on the Jersey Shore with a boardwalk that spans for nearly two miles, sets the scene for an easy-going summer escape route for an eclectic group of people, mostly from South Jersey and Philadelphia. Contributor Annie Morton spent summers there for most of her life, and now walks the boardwalk with her camera in hand, capturing the energy of the youth culture that continues on today.
Annie: For me, Wildwood has been such a huge part of my life. It’s my second home. If you grow up in Philly, or around Philly, that is where you go. You go “down the shore.” I have been going there my whole life.
Debra: Describe Wildwood a little bit. It’s not just the shore. It has this incredible boardwalk. The boardwalk itself is very unusual, I think. It’s not just one pier with a Ferris wheel on it. There is something about it that brings together this mix of people.
Annie: There is a lot going on. It is an incredibly diverse place. It brings together people from all over, which is awesome. It’s a lot of fun. It’s great for kids and families. Everyone is having a really good time. I think the boardwalk is three miles total if you walked it both ways. There are three full amusement piers. I don’t know if it is the largest, but it is definitely probably close to being one of the largest, on the East Coast.
Debra: To me it is so interesting how it is this real mix of different ethnicities and different kinds of people. I think that you mentioned to me that that is reflective of Philly.
Annie: Well Philly is an incredibly diverse city, so it’s kind of like “Philly at the beach.” That’s always how we thought of it, even growing up. Most of the people there are from somewhere in South Jersey or Philly.
Debra: Talk about it in terms of youth culture. What was that experience like for you? What did it mean for you to go there in the summer as a teenager?
Annie: We were bad when we went, which was a long time ago, as a youth. I’m sure it still happens. You would go there for senior week, we would sneak there when we were supposed to be in school. We would drive down for the day. One year we pretended my grandmother went with us, and that wasn’t true at all.
Debra: You are photographing kids, so what differences do you see now with what they are doing? What are you talking to them about? What is the vibe that you get from them?
Annie: I think that they are all just there to have fun. The girls on the blanket, they were all there working. It was their first summer after graduation.They were all hanging out on that blanket just chilling across from their house. The kids on the skateboards, they were a little bit younger. They were just there having a good time riding their skateboards on the boardwalk. Different ages kind of leads to different things that they are doing.
Debra: In Edward Weston’s personal journals he expressed it so well. This was in the '30’s. So if you think back to what photography was like then, it was women in the studio, lit, those forced pictures – perfect. That is kind of what photography was at the time. He was taking pictures of what some people thought was nothing. It is about looking at the world. An artist just pulls it out of the world. It is not about constructing something and then taking a picture of it.
It is about looking at the world around you, and pulling out of the world what you are trying to say, rather than trying to construct something. It is not that as a photographer you are not constructing. You are constructing something by what you point your camera at, and when you decide to push the button, a little to the right, a little to the left, as you know, makes all of the difference.
A big part of what we are doing at the Culture Crush is developing a way of looking at the world. That is something I believe really strongly in, in terms of storytelling. So I feel like that is what you’re doing.
Annie: People always seem much more beautiful to me when they are doing something natural. So finding the world as it is and photographing it, I totally get it. Usually when you start to try and manipulate it is when it changes and gets weird sometimes.
Debra: When I look at the whole issue together, and look at the four artists who are contributing this time, everybody has their own voice. You are photographing your own life. I feel like that is why the photographs have so much strength. You are looking at it with different eyes. You are not thinking about pictures. You are not saying, “That would make an amazing picture.” You’re just like, “That is amazing.” Right?
Annie: Yeah, definitely. It is definitely way more to do with just the subject. I love people too. Usually the follow-up, if I do speak with them, is something amazing.
Debra: Back to Edward Weston at Big Sur, when I first went to Big Sur I thought, “This is a joke. You can’t take a bad picture here. You can just point your camera anywhere and it is a dramatic cliff, and a dramatic sky, and all of that kind of stuff." But the truth is that not just anyone can take those pictures at all. Weston would just go and he would take a picture of a rock. And I’m telling you, if you look at that picture and you could almost die. It’s like looking right into nature. That is the artist.
Annie: In Wildwood, the people who I am photographing are there on vacation and they are all in their happy place. It’s on the ocean with a beautiful beach. Most of the people there are in a good spot.
Debra: But yet, there is a lot of drama in the pictures, there are a lot of emotions going on. There are no pictures in your story of people overtly laughing, but there are the everyday dramas happening, like, “Oh wait, I didn’t get my ice cream cone!” It’s funny.
Annie: I love that. I look for that. The little bits of emotion on people’s faces. I definitely look for the drama more. I don’t know what the drama might be. Maybe it’s like what you suggested, the ice cream falling.
Debra: But that is the thing. In the moment when your ice cream falls to the ground, and you’re a kid, it is the worst thing that ever happened. That is where we can find the beauty in life. The Culture Crush is also about hope. There is so much beauty all around the world and I want to be able to talk about that in just as much of a deep way as you can talk about the tragedies.
Annie: Go outside and get off of your computer, or your phone, and look for the beauty that is around you. We all are human and we all want the same things. We love our families, and our moms, and our kids. We want to live our lives and be happy.
Debra: I just have this want to find things that we have in common even if they’re bad things. I just want to find things in common and I think this story really does.