On a beach in Oregon, the sun is obscured by a blanket of cloud cover while the cool breeze rising from the water buffets the clothes on your back and bestows upon each long-haired visitor some gloriously windswept bedhead. However, on this particular beach, Northwest Wild Products Owner Ron Neva is not here to perfect his hairdo. He’s hunting for large, gold-shelled razor clams, with Richard Darbonne there to document it.
A few months prior, Richard had participated in some client outreach to which he received an almost immediate response from Allison Bye, the art director of Statehood Media. She contacted him to shoot for one of their publications, 1859 Magazine.
I have a lot of experience shooting magazine editorials and environmental portraits. [Allison] liked my style and felt like I was a great fit for the story.
Richard even says that, despite having traveled and photographed all over the world, he always finds himself drawn back to the sea. This shoot was to be completed on the Oregon Coast between Astoria and Cannon Beach, a stretch lauded as one of the best places in the world for razor clamming — a trickier-than-it-sounds process.
These clams are quite happy (excuse the pun) to dig as far as four feet down into the sand and will only surface once the water begins to wash up over them. Of course, this is when they’re easiest to spot and capture.
We had to hit the beach at low tide, which was 6:30 a.m. on this day. I live in Portland, which is about two hours from the coast, so I had to wake up at 4 a.m. to get there on time.
Having spoken with his subject, Ron Neva, Richard knew he should wear boots or waders to this particular shoot ahead of time. So, before the sun had even thought about rising, the Oregonian had rolled out of bed, stuck his feet into a pair of rubber boots, and began his journey. Little did Richard know he wouldn’t just be tiptoeing around the beaches’ waterline — he would be half-immersed in the icy waters.
I had no idea we would be wading out waist-deep into the surf. My boots immediately filled with water and my jeans were soaked; it was a cold morning, so I felt it right away!
With his cameras dangling from his neck, Richard deftly kept them safe from the splashing, salt-laden waves, and the only damage he left with were more discomforts than anything: dampened socks and heavy jeans. While juggling his cameras and avoiding the sea spray, Richard also focused on running the shoot.
Both the clammers and the waves move fast, so it was a challenge keeping up with both. I had to keep an eye out for sneaker waves and run after the clammers who would go in and out of the surf really quickly.
The clammers spot small air pockets in the sand (which they call doughnuts) and then start digging. After going about a foot deep, they plunge their hand in the hole and pull out the clam, which can range in size between 5-10 inches.
These clams are very hot commodities and only allowed to be sold within the state. Casual clam hunters — think families on vacation or hobbyists filling their weekends — must only take the first 15 clams they find. They tend to use “clam guns” as their weapon of choice. Less violent than they sound, clam guns are long metal tubes designed to sink into the sand and trap the small animals inside them. However, Ron Neva does all his hunting with a nice gentle shovel and is required to return any clam smaller than 3.75 inches.
While all this clam talk might seem like a foreign language to some, Richard loves interacting with people who have mastered their craft.
Their enthusiasm is contagious, and I feel like I always glean a bit of their knowledge. I also love seafood, especially clams, so it was a treat to watch a pro.
While Richard enjoyed the entire experience, one of his favorite parts of shoots like these is being out in the elements and capturing the fleeting moments that most people wouldn’t otherwise get to witness.
I always know I’ve done my best work when I’m exhausted at the end of the shoot. It’s the most tiring when I have to run around chasing subjects in challenging situations — my instincts kick in and, at some point, my subject and I are moving in sync. This is when the imagery feels most urgent and visceral.
And visceral is just what the client needed. Keeping the images real and gritty, Richard focused his efforts on getting a variety of imagery and afterward kept the post-production to a minimum.
To read more about razor clamming in Oregon, check out 1859 Magazine’s article here.
Art Director: Allison Bye, Statehood Media
See more of Richard’s work at richarddarbonne.com.
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