The Near-Death of a Local Photographic Icon

Picture: Stars over the wreck of the Point Reyes, Inverness, Marin County, California

Image: Stars over the wreck of the Point Reyes, Inverness, Marin County, California
(Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications. – 151002b_BA2-0250)

The Near-Death of a Local Photographic Icon

or … Bad Photographers & Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.

A few weeks ago, a local photographic icon known as the Wreck of the Point Reyes, an old abandoned shipwreck on the Marin County shoreline in the small hamlet town of Inverness, caught fire and was partially destroyed. The back of the boat burned. But what really raised the ire of local residents and photographers alike was an image from the day before the fire that was shared on the social media photo site Instagram showing people spinning burning steel wool on the back of this very same old wooden boat. The photographer’s single word caption: “Lit.” Needless to say, the firestorm that swept through the comments section of that image post were perhaps hotter and even more inflamed than the fire that burned the actual shipwreck, and much of that venting was spewed towards photographers in general.

The burning of steel wool — a technique known as Spinning — is one of these photographic ‘cliche-tricks’ that became highly popular in the last couple years due to the ever-increasing popularity of such images shared across social media sites. Admittedly, like the explosion of a firework mixed with the giddy child-like fascination of playing with sparklers, it’s understandable that as more photographers see a popular and dramatic effect, the more who will be drawn to becoming Spinners as they’re called. It really is the proverbial “like a moth to a flame” effect.

But as people play with fire, some will be smart, careful, and considerate, while others… not so smart. And a shower of sparks tossed around an old wooden boat sealed with tar… well, it’s hard to say for sure if the spinning photographers were 100% directly to blame, but the coincidence of timing is severe. A spark can easily linger tucked away in an unseen crevice for many hours before erupting into flames.

The shipwreck has been a local photographic icon for a number of decades as she sat aground, slowly letting time slide her gentle, ever-wearing hand across her hull. As an icon, I frankly passed her by many times before I finally said. “What the heck…,” and decided to grab a few shots of her for myself. But if you were to search on a site like flickr, you’d certainly see hundreds of shots of this old, weather-worn lady.

As previously mentioned, it wasn’t just the wool-spinning photographers who caught flack over the damaged to this beloved local icon, but photographers in general were also attacked with a broad stroke, as in ‘this is why we can’t have nice things’ sort of way. One comment that seemed to sum up the local frustration:

I swear all these damn tourists are the same the(y) (sic) just wanna come and take pictures and leave their mark on our beautiful scenery. What a shame.

So yeah, I’m sure there are some photographers who are sucky sorts of people, and are only out for themselves, to get the next great shot, to feed the popularity cycle at whatever the expense, risk, or law-evading maneuver that will get them their trophy shot. But there are also many more kind, respectful, and considerate photographers who aren’t like that.

And to be totally honest, there are thousands of more sucky people out there who aren’t photographers, and display far less respect for the property of others. And as bad as the fire was, what burns me up just as much was the also-recent vandalism apparent in this image taken by Mairi Pileggi the morning after the fire that showed a huge graffiti mark sprayed across the bow of the Point Reyes.

So between the fire, most probably caused by Spinners, the frustration of locals who feel inundated by tourists and photographers in general seeking to take photos and ‘leave their mark’ on the landscape like peeing dogs, and idiot taggers, you have to wonder why some feel like this is why we can’t have nice things, and why there have to be so many rules and regulations for what people can or can’t do. It literally is enough to make you shake your head and simply wonder what’s next?

The wreck of the Point Reyes sits on land that’s administered by the National Park Service under the jurisdiction of the nearby Point Reyes National Seashore. I spoke last week with a ranger who said at this point they’re investigating to determine if any toxic hazards are present before deciding to let the remains stay where they are, or if the NPS will completely dismantle the wreck and haul the remains away for good.

Anyway, here a couple more of my few shots. I hope you enjoy them now, for sadly I fear this lady’s passing into the gray mist of lore and times gone by has been dramatically hastened.

Image: The wreck of the Point Reyes boat, Inverness, Marin County, California
(Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications. – 130321a_BA2-0136)

Image: The wreck of the Point Reyes boat, Inverness, Marin County, California
(Click here to purchase a print or license for use in publications. – 151022a_BA2-0233)

You can also read more about this on PetaPixel, along with many mixed comments.

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Gary Crabbe is an award-winning commercial and editorial outdoor travel photographer and author based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, California. He has seven published books on California to his credit, including “Photographing California; v1-North”, which won the prestigious 2013 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal award as Best Regional title. His client and publication credits include the National Geographic Society, the New York Times, Forbes Magazine, TIME, The North Face, Subaru, L.L. Bean, Victoria’s Secret, Sunset Magazine, The Nature Conservancy, and many more. Gary is also a photography instructor and consultant, offering both public and private photo workshops. He also works occasionally a professional freelance Photo Editor.

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2 Comments on “The Near-Death of a Local Photographic Icon”

  1. David Leland Hyde (@PhilipHydePhoto) Says:

    It is a disgrace to the profession that “photographers” are now more and more often the careless, selfish ones on the scene. In bygone days, serious photographers carried themselves with grace and elegance. Nature photographers were often ambassadors of various locations for their protection, rather than using and abusing them for private gain and commercial exploitation or merely for “likes” on social media. In my father’s day he was proud to be a photographer because everywhere he went, photographers were respected and given special treatment. Today photographers are treated just like media paparazzi and frankly it is embarrassing. As an aside, I have coined a silly nickname for photography, as practiced by many who will do anything to draw attention to themselves on the Internet: landscrape photography. Not all that clever, but they do tend to go around either literally or figuratively scraping and ruining places they photograph. It is ironic that now a lot of nature photography is bad for nature. This is spread between three main factors: 1. Vandalism by “photographers;” 2. Guidebooks that publicize places giving specific paint-by-numbers directions that multiply the site’s traffic many times over (some guidebooks are still tastefully done); 3. Massive amounts of far-flung travel when excellent subjects exist in a photographer’s hometown, home state and home region. Edward Weston said that he could look at his boot and find a great photograph. His images grew out of his locale. He was the voice for his area and became world-famous for it. In writing, the more detailed the scene, the more universal it becomes. I have noticed this is also true in photography. The more a photographer drills down into the essence of what makes his subject and surroundings, the more it appeals to those around the world who have at least some taste and knowledge of art, as opposed to mere pretty pictures for the sake of pretty pictures.

  2. David Leland Hyde (@PhilipHydePhoto) Says:

    By the way, Gary, I meant to say that your “before” images are gorgeous and the “after” frame is good too. They evoke the spirit of that old boat and the area very well. More than once when I have been down there in that location, just a few hundred yards down the shore, I thought about photographing that old wreck. One time I was making images in the area and one even shows the “Point Reyes” in the distance. That day the tide was low exposing a lot of mud. I had already become muddy enough and had almost gotten stuck too. I decided not to go further or to hike down the beach. I wish I had now. However, I believe I will now make a point of getting out there to photograph the burned version of the wreck before it goes away, as comparatively fewer others will have captured that…

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