Erica Reade photographs lovers on New York’s beaches

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“People of all backgrounds and identities descend upon the city’s shores, and for a few hours, they shed the layers and masks that this city so often requires us to wear”

Beach Lovers started as a happy accident,” says New York-based photographer Erica Reade of her latest photobook. “During the first few days of late May 2015 I was experiencing some of my worst creative block, so I went to the beach to clear my mind and think about where I wanted to take my photography.” 

While there, she noticed a couple nearby, their bodies entwined as one read and the other napped. It was an emotive moment that stirred something in her, and she felt compelled to take a photo. For the rest of that day, she photographed other couples too, thinking to use up the roll of film if nothing more. Once she developed it though, she was spellbound, and “deeply motivated by this idea of anonymously capturing such private tender moments”. 

Couple Next Door © Erica Reade.

From there, Reade spent the best part of the next seven years taking trips to New York beaches, including Coney Island, Fort Tilden and Rockaway Beach, searching for sweet scenes of intimacy and human connection.

“I was slowing down to observe the ways people who love each other express their feelings and affection towards each other, and it was incredibly touching and life-affirming,” she explains. “Whether an older couple walking the beach for their twentieth summer together, or young teenage lovers sneaking kisses before curfew, these little moments felt so special.”

From the many photographs Reade took across the years, an edit of 60 have made it into the final book, accompanied by an essay from photographer Gulnara Samoilova, and a text by Reade. All shot in black and white, she wanted the images to feel timeless, she says, as if these quiet displays of affection could have been forty years ago or today. 

Rolling in the Deep © Erica Reade.
Nestled Nap © Erica Reade.

Reade’s pictures of lovers are evocative and wistful. They are universal in many ways, but also, she says, distinctly New York. “Beach culture is often the furthest thing from people’s minds when they think of New York, but there is something about the beaches here – they are beautiful and raw all at the same time. The beach has an innately democratising factor to it, and that’s particularly so in NYC, ” she says.

“On the beach, we are raw and exposed, stripped of our clothes and makeup, our status markers… People of all backgrounds and identities descend upon the city’s shores, and for a few hours, they shed the layers and masks that this city so often requires us to wear.”

Beach Lovers by Erica Reade is published by Daylight Books

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for over 40 international magazines and journals, and held positions as editor for organisations including The Photographers' Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. She recently completed an MA in comparative literature and criticism at Goldsmiths College, University of London