Force and Resistance

In this story, the ocean’s waves provide the force as they repeatedly pummel a large rock. And the resistant rock is unmoved.

Over and over again, wave after wave after wave hits the stubborn rock. And in turn, with its immense strength, it breaks each of the waves, one by one, sending their water flying in all directions around it.

Certainly, over time the rock has shrunk, worn away bit by bit by the ocean’s persistence, but still, there it has stood for longer than you and I have been alive and will remain long after we’ve gone.

Different from many other situations that involve force and resistance, there is no intention in this seemingly eternal battle. The rock didn’t place itself there to impede the progress of the ocean’s waves. Ad the oncoming waves don’t aim for the rock in an effort to topple it or wear it down. It is just the way things are.

In those other situations where force and resistance play a role, regardless of the side(s) on which intention lies, I think it can be tempting to say, “it’s just the way things are.”

Maybe I’m being idealistic, but I’d like to think we have more choice in the matter than do the ocean’s waves and the resistant rock. I’d like to think that working together we can find a different, better way that doesn’t break one of us and wear the other down. By doing something other than the seemingly inevitable, we might have to struggle a bit more but may end with creation rather than destruction. By adding humanity to our action we rise up to become our best rather than brutishly fumbling to our worst.

The Story of the Photo

I took the photo above, Force and Resistance, in August of 2017 while sitting near the edge of a small cliff overlooking the beach at Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu, California. Leo Carrillo is an extremely special spot on the California coast if for no other reason than that it appears in a number of movies stretching back to the 1930s. Below is another photo that I took at Leo Carrillo early one morning a few years earlier, in 2014.

Before the damage caused by the Woolsey fire closed the opportunity to us, we would go there every chance we got to visit some great friends who live in Joshua Tree but spend their summers in Malibu. Every night we slept in a tent just above the beach, lulled by the strikingly loud but soothingly repetitive crash of the ocean’s waves. And every morning I woke up early to wander the area in search of stories to capture with my camera.

On this particular morning I found myself looking down on this lone rock, which stood maybe 25 yards from the highest reach of the water on the beach at that point in the tide. As I watched the waves crash against it again and again, this idea of an eternal, and futile, battle occurred to me. I decided to see if I could capture the story in a photo.

Working with the ocean

I’d like to say that this was an easy task, but as it turns out, there were a number of interesting challenges that led to a large number of frustrating failures. First, knowing that different shutter speeds result in different looks for the moving water, I wasn’t exactly sure of what shutter speed I should use. I had to experiment a bit before landing on 1/4th of a second as the right speed to capture an interesting texture of crashing wave.

And then there was the fact that not every wave was the same. Some swallowed the rock whole, passing over it without a crash. Others landed just before it before flowing quietly into the beach. Only a few landed at just the right point to create an interesting scene.

So, how could I predict which waves might land in just the right way for the image that I had in mind? And, how many waves would do so before the tide reached a level that would mean no waves hit it in just the right way? How long did I have to get the shot? To answer those questions, I had to sacrifice some time to sit and watch the waves to see if there was a pattern I could use to predict and even then, it was a matter of luck.

Finally, another challenge was the timing of the shot. At what point in the wave’s progress should I hit the shutter button to make the picture? I can’t tell you how many times I got that wrong by just a fraction of a second.

In the end, I walked away with only one picture that worked for me and it has become one of my favorites. It is the one you see at the top of this post, the one I named Force and Resistance. And I’m extremely happy to have it as a reminder of the opportunity I have in difficult situations to rise above.

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