The Sea is My Home

  • Dates
    2022 - Ongoing
  • Author
  • Topics Daily Life, Documentary, Portrait, Social Issues
  • Location New York, United States

‘The Sea is My Home’ is an unconventional collaborative project between myself, a Dutch documentary photographer living in NYC and Aseed, an unhoused veteran living on Coney Island Beach. Our pictures together tell the story of Aseed’s remarkable life.

When the sun rises over Coney Island each morning, Aaasssyyyrr a.k.a Aseed is the first to greet it. “There’s no better view in the world,” he says.

Referring to the beach as his humble abode, Aseed has lived there since the start of the pandemic. "I was born on a navy ship to a Mongolian-Japanese mom and a Portuguese-Saudi Arabian dad. So the sea is my home." Aseed served most of his life as a Navy SEAL, which gave him the survival skills to live outside year-round. "Having no comfort is comforting," he tells me, sitting in the snow. “These seven layers of clothing are my house: they shelter me from the malice intent in the world.”

I met Aseed over a year ago and was struck by his remarkable fortitude. I’ve been visiting him several times a week ever since. The ritual of our visits has evolved into an ongoing collaboration. By day, I make photographs of Aseed as he tells me stories, and by night, he photographs his surroundings with boundless imagination with an underwater camera that, like him, can withstand most weather conditions. The images are mostly taken in total solitude, showing Coney Island as most of us never see it. These sporadic and poetic captures give us a glimpse into Aseed’s inner world.

Together, our pictures tell the story of Aseed’s remarkable life on Coney Island Beach and reflect the dualities of external and internal landscapes: beauty and loneliness, freedom and dependency, fantasy and survival.

© Chantal Heijnen - Image from the The Sea is My Home photography project
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Aseed is a veteran and resident of Coney Island Beach in Brooklyn, NYC. "I was born on a navy ship to a Mongolian-Japanese mom and a Portuguese-Saudi Arabian dad. So the sea is my home." Photo taken by Chantal.

© Chantal Heijnen - Image from the The Sea is My Home photography project
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Each morning the sun rises over Coney Island and Aseed is the first to greet it. “The beach is an environment where you are either sunburned or your body aches to the point where you can get frost bitten.” Photo taken by Aseed.

© Chantal Heijnen - Image from the The Sea is My Home photography project
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"Having no comfort is comforting," Aseed tells me.. "These seven layers of clothes are my house: they shelter me from the malice intent in the world.”Photo taken by Chantal.

© Chantal Heijnen - Night view of Coney Island beach. Photo taken by Aseed.
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Night view of Coney Island beach. Photo taken by Aseed.

© Chantal Heijnen - Image from the The Sea is My Home photography project
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The birds and Aseed form a unique companionship on Coney Island Beach. "Winter Soldier, Lieutenant, and Sergeant," he names his favorite seagulls and pigeons. In this unconventional family, Aseed takes care of them, and they, in turn, provide him with com

© Chantal Heijnen - Image from the The Sea is My Home photography project
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Even during the coldest days of winter, Aseed remains on the beach with a layer of snow covering the cold sand. Photo taken by Aseed.

© Chantal Heijnen - Image from the The Sea is My Home photography project
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Aseed maintains his physique at Coney Island Beach, a hidden strength beneath the layers. "I like to look 'diesel'. I like to smell fresh, and I love to keep my hair long." Photo taken by Chantal.

© Chantal Heijnen - Image from the The Sea is My Home photography project
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Night view of Coney Island beach. "The pictures have a ghost-feel to it. They call it the witching hour, it happens around 12 o’clock at night". Photo taken by Aseed.

© Chantal Heijnen - Image from the The Sea is My Home photography project
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Aseed laying down on his bundle at Coney Island Beach. He often greets me with a smile “Welcome to my humble abode.” Photo taken by Chantal

© Chantal Heijnen - Image from the The Sea is My Home photography project
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Night view of Coney Island beach. “There’s no better view in the world than this view. Looking at the water always brings me peace of mind.” Photo taken by Aseed.

© Chantal Heijnen - Image from the The Sea is My Home photography project
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Portrait of Aseed at the end of the day. "F_ck walls, I enjoy the quietness on the beach at night". Photo taken by Chantal.

© Chantal Heijnen - Night view of Coney Island beach. Photo taken by Aseed.
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Night view of Coney Island beach. Photo taken by Aseed.

© Chantal Heijnen - Aseed's prayer beads help him through difficult times. He finds comfort in Allah's guidance. Photo by Chantal
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Aseed's prayer beads help him through difficult times. He finds comfort in Allah's guidance. Photo by Chantal

© Chantal Heijnen - Aseed loves the company of the birds. Photo taken by Aseed.
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Aseed loves the company of the birds. Photo taken by Aseed.

© Chantal Heijnen - Image from the The Sea is My Home photography project
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Aseed relies on community donations for his sustenance, uncertain of what or when his next meal will be. Photo taken by Chantal.

© Chantal Heijnen - Image from the The Sea is My Home photography project
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Aseed finds solace in the ocean at Coney Island Beach. "I was born in the water. Me and water are like best friends." Photo taken by Chantal.

© Chantal Heijnen - View of the desolated shore at Coney Island. Photo taken by Aseed.
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View of the desolated shore at Coney Island. Photo taken by Aseed.

© Chantal Heijnen - Image from the The Sea is My Home photography project
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Aseed sleeping while leaning against his bundle, his place he calls home and never leaves. “I love to keep my surroundings clean. I’m a volunteer maintaining and de-glassing the Coney Island beach. It’s a lot of work that I like to do early in the morning

© Chantal Heijnen - During the winter Aseed's hair got 'beached'. He decided to cut his hair short. Photo taken by Chantal.
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During the winter Aseed's hair got 'beached'. He decided to cut his hair short. Photo taken by Chantal.

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