Shack dwelling on the backshore dunes of Provincetown is an important part of Cape Cod history. Artists, writers and others seeking solace and inspiration from the dunes have used the shacks for close to a century. I was offered the opportunity to live and work as artist-in-residence in one of the surviving shacks for two weeks. Living without electricity, running water and all the conventional modern day conveniences was not something I had done before.
My goal was to make photographs that did justice to this spectacular setting. Advice given by former shack artists was to embrace solitude and assiduously avoid contact with people. They suggested by doing this my creative abilities would be enhanced.
In the beginning I felt tremendous pressure to produce brilliant, wonderful images every day. The stunning landscape with the Atlantic ocean a few hundred feet from the deck of the shack, was my temporary home base. I secretly dreaded a less than ideal outcome in terms of my work; how awful it would be to fail and go back with anything less than what I saw in front of me.
Quiet on the dunes accentuated the noise and counterproductive thoughts in my head. Fortunately the necessity of simple chores that went with shack living took precedence over my creative anxieties. Water had to be pumped, food packed away, matches for lighting kerosene lamps and flashlights readied, all in preparation for the fall of darkness. Nights were suitable only for reading books and there was barely enough light for that. Sleep was the alternative.
Weather was uncooperative, food ran low, unwanted companions of all sorts wanted to share in my temporary quarters. Determined, I kept making pictures each day, no matter what distractions ensued. Those unproductive thoughts, the “noise” in my head faded away. Things fell into place, became ordered, reordered.
When it came time to leave, I braced myself for the return to normal life. Checking into a bed and breakfast I was mesmerized by the sight of water pouring from a faucet, such luxury. Other things seemed so jarring, downright shocking; garbage cans with hundreds of plastic bottles overflowing everywhere, people and cars seemed to be overflowing, too. The noise, deafening. I immediately felt alarmed, but was not really sure why.
There were things from my “shack” time that I was able to take away with me that did not disappear as quickly the temporary tranquility. Several important lessons that I learned from this experience, even a few creative ones, will not be lost or forgotten. The time spent living out on the dunes in this tiny, wonderful, primitive dwelling will continue to inspire my work.