Where the Livin’ Is Easy

Unbuttoning on the beach

Susan Rosenberg Jones
Susan Rosenberg Jones

Susan Rosenberg Jones photographs the residents of her high-rise complex in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, most often inside their apartments. Her subjects include a diverse mix of teachers, social workers, nurses, and writers, among other middle-income tenants, many of whom have lived in the community since the 1970s. As a break, she began venturing out to Brighton Beach to document daily life on the sand. There she found her fellow New Yorkers, famously suspicious and buttoned up, becoming less guarded in the heat of the summer sun.

“I have an interest in what brings people together in a community, especially in the communities of New York City. One of them that has always interested me is Brighton Beach. It’s not easy to get to—it’s an hour by train from Manhattan. The thing I like about Brighton Beach is that it’s not as crowded as Coney Island because there aren’t as many tourists. A lot of people go there just for the beach and not for amusements. It also has a lot of immigrants from Russia—the actual neighborhood is called Little Odessa by the Sea—along with people from other ethnic groups. But mainly, I want to observe the culture of people from the neighborhood interacting on this beach.

I like the idea of capturing moments between people who don’t know each other, or some who do, and watching this all play out on the street. I’m a little shy when it comes to photographing people on the street, but on the beach, I’m not at all. People on the beach see a woman with a camera, but they don’t care. They’re having too much fun to care about me. They are running and jumping through the water and grabbing buckets to make sand castles.

On the beach, people are spontaneous—they’re happy. It’s nice to see so many people relaxed because of the sun, sand, and water. But it still feels like city life because you get such a diverse mix of people. You see interactions between strangers, but everything is very calm. When you’re on the streets, there’s a lot of tension. Even just navigating the sidewalks, people are walking quickly or New Yorkers are annoyed because they’re trying to walk around tourists. You don’t see that on the beach. Everyone is just chill. There’s an openness at the beach that you don’t get in the city.

Brighton Beach becomes a community in the summer. The environment informs the way people interact, whether it’s by accident or design. The children are in their own world. Kids get down in the sand, they lie on their stomachs and roll around, they laugh and giggle and are just full of life. The older people tend to stand around—sometimes they’ll go down to the water and stare out into the open. They’re more aware of themselves, both how they look and act. This isn’t a luxury resort or the Caribbean—it’s a city beach. But the people are having as good a time as they would anywhere.”

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Noelani Kirschner is a former assistant editor for the Scholar.


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