90s Archive: Volume Two



Surfer, Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.
Text Andrew Finch.

This book is the second instalment from Marc Vallée’s 90s archive and we find him on the south New Jersey shore. He was a student and spent the summers of 1995 and 1996 teaching photography at an arts camp. Fresh with an analogue camera, he roamed the boardwalk in his free time, exploring his surroundings, pushing his luck and charm. Open to the ambivalences and uncertainties inherent in the landscape, he photographed surfers, young men, beneath the long skies before the sun went down.

The opening chapter observes Marc’s newfound surroundings with a tentative and wandering eye. Time as distance and time as gaze. We follow his curiosity, cruising the wooden boardwalk, magnetised to a boy holding  a surfboard who eventually appears to return his gaze from behind dark sunglasses.


Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.


Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.
Marc’s subjects are not love-bound and sped by desire, as with his later work, but perhaps he was. Desire means longing, searching, secret marks upon a wall, danger, noctambulism and transgressive territory. These surfers emerge idle beneath the sun, drifting into his periphery and portraiture.

The potential eroticism, or lack of, in these images is open to decipher. Is Marc drawn to the performativity of carefree youth in their summer downtime? Partially. They are also autonomous; soft rebels caught between adulthood and boyhood.


Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.


Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.
Symbols: a snake, an iron cross, a tribal sweatband, four stripes and a twisted arrow on a surfboard. Individuals will always find a way to wear subcultural identity on their sleeves. I think of the tenderness contained in Jem Cohen’s portraits of Fugazi fans queuing outside a concert in his film Instrument. Adolescent struggle and unease are difficult to capture with genuine care and verité, but Marc does so from the start of his journey.

During that first summer in 1995, a friend whispered about the release of a film called Kids. Influencing generations of artists, culture, fashion and film, Larry Clark’s film manifests, like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, hidden powers. I think it’s predestined. Marc returned to London and bought a Clark print from The Photographers’ Gallery with his summer wages and it still gazes down at him from his studio wall.


Lifeguards, Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.


Lifeguards, Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.

The beach was regulated at night. Marc remembers driving to the shore with a friend after dark. They laid down together in the sand, side by side. Gazing at the stars (no camera), drinking liquor, a moment of infinite possibilities. Tracing the constellations, an intrusive torch destroyed the moment in a heartbeat. They were cleared from the water’s edge by the local police.

Marc confided that his time in New Jersey was an attempt to move away from the ghosts of London clubland  that first summer. I often think of Marc’s work as pushing out from trauma, presenting a complex visual  autobiography soaked with sexuality and loss but executed with diligence. The gentle acts of rebellion of his subjects are expressions of sound and fury, conduits of his love and friendship and authenticity and fantasy and life. This work of Marc’s was the beginning of things.


Lifeguards, Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.


Lifeguards, Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.


Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.


Luke, Ocean City, New Jersey, 1996.


Luke, Ocean City, New Jersey, 1996.


Jeff, Ocean City, New Jersey, 1996.


Jeff, Ocean City, New Jersey, 1996.


Luke, Ocean City, New Jersey, 1996.


Luke, Ocean City, New Jersey, 1996.


Snake & Crucifix, Elmer, New Jersey, 1996.


Snake & Crucifix, Elmer, New Jersey, 1996.


Chris, Avalon, New Jersey, 1995.


Chris, Avalon, New Jersey, 1995.


Chris, Avalon, New Jersey, 1995.


Chris, Avalon, New Jersey, 1995.


Jaye, Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.


Jaye, Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.


Jaye, Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.


Jaye, Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.


Jaye, Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.


Jaye, Avalon, New Jersey, 1996.
Andrew Finch (b.1994) is a filmmaker, curator and writer based in London. His practice explores countercultures and their impact on space before and after the advent of digital technologies.




All images © Marc Vallée. All rights reserved.