Questions of Privilege
Along the eastern shore of Nantucket is 'Sconset Bluff, a glacial coastal bank that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. The bluff is lined with homes, some over one hundred years old, which provide this close-knit summer community with magnificent ocean views. Beach stairs connect the residents to the beach below and are lanky symbols of the privilege of owning bluff property. The original land owner, William Flagg, provided a public footpath that winds through the yards of bluff homes so that all the residents of Nantucket can enjoy this Atlantic vista.
The bluff stood for centuries covered with Rosa Rugosa and coastal grasses. It is now rapidly eroding, possibly due to a confluence of offshore conditions that have changed the impact of the Atlantic. The northern section has been stripped of vegetation and many tons of earth have fallen into the ocean leaving the upper edge of the bluff dangerously undercut. Irrigation lines and white PVC pipes are exposed and roots and building timbers protrude from the face of the bank. Houses were left with the sod of their lawns hanging over the lip of the bluff. Much of the public path has fallen or has been blocked, as it is no longer safe to use.
We photographed the bluff during the nor’easters, blizzards, and coastal flooding that have pounded this fragile land over the fall and winter of 2009-2010. Standing on the bluff's edge, exposed to wind gusts of over 60 mph, we sought to capture the power of the elements shaping the island. We shot in the northern areas that are falling into the sea and in the southern areas which still have a gentle slope covered in vegetation. We observed the snow-covered beaches and the wind-swept waves. We watched gulls swoop, pipers chase the surf and seals rest on the beach. We saw the loss of privilege as houses were moved away from the crumbling edge and another section of the bluff path was closed. We witnessed the ocean’s exercise of its own privilege in changing the shore that it meets.
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