Although Montauk is commonly known as “The End,” it is known by Michael Dweck as the beginning—of his photography career.
With his camera in hand and the Montauk beaches as his backdrop, he was able to create and capture a seemingly perfect lifestyle that is seen in his first photography book, “The End: Montauk, N.Y.”
The book attained instant success upon its release in 2004. All 5,000 copies were sold in less than three weeks, bought by the likes of Calvin Klein, Paul McCartney and Ralph Lauren. Even now, years later, Mr. Dweck said he receives countless emails every week from people wanting to purchase the book.
“It represents what everybody wants in life, and that’s freedom and joy and escaping—to stay young forever,” he said.
On July 4 of this year, Mr. Dweck published a 10th anniversary limited edition of his famed photography book. This exclusive edition—only 300 copies were printed, and each sells for $3,000—includes the original 190 photographs, 85 previously unpublished photographs, two essays by Mr. Dweck and one by artist Peter Beard in an oversized clothbound clamshell box. Each box includes a gelatin silver print of one of three of his most iconic photos.
The original book depicts an idyllic version of the surfing subculture of Montauk. The people are beautiful, the women are naked, and everyone spends their time surfing and relaxing on the beach instead of working.
Mr. Dweck said it only took him 18 days in 2002 to take all of the photos in his book. He asked his friends to be the subjects, and most were locals at the time. He can still flip through the more than 200 pages and name every subject.
“That book made my career,” said the coily-haired photographer. “Before that, I was an advertiser and I wanted to concentrate on photography, so that book was supposed to be my portfolio to getting commercial work. I never thought my work was going to sell. I thought I was going to be a photographer doing catalogs or something. Lo and behold, I’ve never done anything commercially, and this became my fine art career.”
He then pointed to a photo in the book: “This picture sold for $55,000 at auction.”
Mr. Dweck didn’t want to simply condense his ethereal Montauk photos into a book; he wanted to make a narrative in which the viewer can follow a day in the life of the subjects. The collection of photos shows the bright morning hours as young surfers meet up, their natural progression into the Atlantic waters, lunch breaks at the Ditch Witch food truck, lazy afternoons soaking up the sun, and intimate moments back at the beach house.
“When you open this book and you look through it, I think you get sucked into the story. It’s like a film,” explained Mr. Dweck, who recently ventured into the world of filmmaking. “The more time you spend with this, you see how the narrative works. I thought about every photograph really carefully.”
He knew that change was bound to occur in the quiet fishing town of Montauk, so he wanted to capture its essence before it was too late. This became a recurring theme of his later project, “Habana Libre.” The 2011 photo series portrays the sensual and attractive privileged class of Cuba. As recent modernizations and the lifting of the U.S. embargo against Cuba transform the island’s easygoing lifestyle, the scenes Mr. Dweck captured may not be seen again.
However, he never wanted viewers to believe that his photos were accurate depictions of the place where they were taken. He calls his works “near documentaries,” because while they do portray the activities and environment of the given place, he purposely creates an imaginative reality by casting his own characters and ridding them of responsibilities.
As part of his “The End” anniversary celebration, Mr. Dweck also recently released a 50-print limited edition portfolio of some of his Montauk photos in partnership with the Keszler Gallery in Southampton. It is currently being sold at the gallery and features nine gelatin silver prints and one chromogenic print in a clamshell box.
In addition, he plans to do a 2,700-print run of an expanded version of the book worldwide in October. An advanced release already occurred exclusively on the East End, a community that holds a special place in the photographer’s heart. It can be purchased at BookHampton, Harbor Books, Bloom, A Tale of Two Sisters, Montauk Mainstay, Home Nature and Southampton Books.
He has split his time between New York City and Montauk since the 1970s and grew up in Bellmore, Long Island, before that. His first personal essay in “The End” talks about how he discovered the Montauk surfing scene during his high school days. His essay that was added to the new edition reflects on the town’s changes over the last 12 years.
“I’m a realist, but at the same time there’s still a romance to Montauk that I’ll always love,” he admitted.
According to Mr. Dweck, the rapidly selling box set has only a few copies left that are available at Home Nature in Southampton and on the publishing website, ditchplainspress.com. Several celebrities and other notable figures have already bought the box set, including Paris Hilton.
A portion of the proceeds from the box set and expanded book will benefit the Surfrider Foundation, Oceana and Splash, three charities devoted to protecting the ocean and keeping waterways clean.
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