In 1975 Tod Papageorge made a cross-America trip that ended on the beaches of Los Angeles. There, taken by the light, he produced some of his first medium-format (6 x 9 cm) photographs. In 1978 he returned to Los Angeles to expand on those first pictures and, in 1981 and 1988, on shorter visits, added yet again to this body of work. Here, he writes about “At the Beach”:
“I think that part of what these beach pictures are about is the difference between our preconceptions of a place and what, when we get there, that place turns out to be. In this case (of Los Angeles and its coastline), I think it’s also fair to suggest that those preconceptions are particularly strong, shaped as they irresistibly have been by the movies and popular music. So, as a first point, what I wanted to do on this project was examine those preconceptions (at least as I conjured them) through the descriptive power of photography in order to pin down what two semi-myths - the world of surfers and the life of southern California beaches –‘really’ looked like.
“To describe a place and yet at the same time reinvent it is a double intention on the part of the photographer that we should be used to by now when we look at and think about photographs. It seems to be a contradiction built into interesting pictures, if not the medium of photography itself. With these pictures, then, I worked with the belief that the closer I came to describing the literal nature of the place and people I was photographing, the more surprising the pictures that came out of that process might be. All while transforming (I hoped), the casual, unselfconscious physicality of these beachgoers moving from the boardwalks onto the sand and back again into form and meaning.
“I'm speaking of what I hoped for the photographs, of course - they may not describe these things at all. But whether I'm right or wrong about these particular pictures, it should go without saying that a good photograph must, in some palpable sense, distinguish what it describes.”