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June 2, 2023


With Carol Dronsfield and The Coney Island Polar Bears

Photography by Carol Dronsfield
Story by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico

While we all put our toes in the sand as the sun kisses our face at beaches by the sea in summer, some regulars at Coney Island swim all year around. There are these amazing individuals who are part of an integral part of the Coney Island community called the Coney Island Polar Bears, famous for their outrageous New Year's Day Plunge. The Coney Island Polar Bear Club’s official season meets every Sunday from mid November through mid April on the cold shores of Coney Island. They share their inspiration and drive with us through the eyes of Carol Dronsfield, capturing the spirit of the Bears through her lens.


Carol is a familiar and inspirational part of The Pictorial List community of photographers. Carol was born in Hartford, Connecticut and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her career began as an advertising art director on Madison Avenue, where she developed a particular passion for photography. Drawn to her unique and emotionally engaging style, clients began asking Carol to step behind the camera to shoot their ads. She has been shooting commercially ever since.

Her recent personal work centers on street photography, seeking out the humanity of her subjects against the often harsh background of their urban surroundings. Carol says, “Living and working in NYC for over 30 years, I realized that I never had really seen the city. Shooting the streets of NYC is like my own personal theater. There are many acts, never quite the same. I walk around with my eyes wide open; my mind open to what is happening before my eyes. The city and especially its people are my inspiration.”

Carol has committed herself to the inspiration the Coney Island Polar Bears bring from November through April. Many of Carol’s Sundays are spent not only photographing but making honest connections. She shares her time with a community she thrives in and inspires her visual storytelling. Carol shares her commitment and dedication to the community she is inspired by.

“I photographed the Bears, an eclectic tribe of dedicated winter swimmers, on 17 different Sundays during the 2022/2023 season. A typical day at the height of the Bears’ season: Water temp 38 degrees. Air temp 32 degrees. Wind chill, brutal.

The Polar Bears arrive at their clubhouse which is owned by the NY Aquarium in Coney Island at around 12:00. Some hang out on the boardwalk. Some like to chat with the photographers. Sometimes there’s a photo op there.

Close to 1:00, I head down to the shoreline, usually with a few other photographers. The Bears arrive and form a circle for jumping jacks, then head into the frigid water. Some enter the water as if they are tackling it, some form a line holding hands, supporting one another as they wade into the water. However they go in, they are now all together, frolicking, submerging themselves in the water, creating a conga line moving through the surf. So much fun to watch, I’m tempted to join them.

Once the Bears are in the water, some stay for 15 minutes, others almost an hour. They never complain about the cold, though at temperatures much above 40 degrees, they’ll complain it’s not cold enough. I stand on the beach with a long puffer coat, hat and gloves, shivering as I watch these Bears plunge in the water in just a bathing suit.

I observe this community of swimmers through my lens and with my heart. I see firsthand the bond they share, the respect and care they have for one another. The joy they extract from the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean is contagious. As much as I go to photograph the Bears, I go to be elevated by their smiles, warm hellos or waves, silly outfits and chants, and fellowship, which always bring me such joy.

Thanks to all Bears who’ve let me share their beach for this project.”

Carol Dronsfield has shared the inspirational community of the Coney Island Polar Bears with The Pictorial List last year. There were so many Bears that had rewarding experiences, we felt we needed to share a few more heart warming positive stories from more members of the CIPB family.

Carol is currently using two cameras, she explains which she has chosen and for what reasons. “When I photograph the Bears primarily a Leica Q2 with a 28mm lens. A perfect camera and lens for portraits and street scenes. The wide-angle lens forces me to get close to my subject, making a more intimate portrait. I also started using a Nikon Z7ii with a 24-70mm lens. I generally prefer the Leica, it’s small, lightweight and easy to maneuver. With the Bears you have to be quick and ready for anything.”

Carol finds inspiration in a quote from Gertrude Caroline Ederle, (born October 23, 1905, New York, New York, U.S.—died November 30, 2003, Wyckoff, New Jersey), American swimmer who was the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926 and is one of the best known American sports personalities of the 1920s.

Quote: “To me, the sea is like a person – like a child that I’ve known a long time. It sounds crazy, I know, but when I swim in the sea, I talk to it. I never feel alone when I’m out there.” – Gertrude Ederle

The Pictorial List is enthused with Carol's connection to the Coney Island Polar Bears, and are pleased to present some more of the Bear’s personal stories to coincide with Carol’s unique way of visual storytelling seeing her subjects come to life through the lens of her camera. Thank you Carol for sharing your inspiration with our photography community.

Carol’s work has been exhibited at the International Center Of Photography, the Annual Women Street Photographers exhibit in NYC 2020, Art On The Ave NYC 2020, the Women Street Photographers Inaugural Virtual Exhibition 2021, the 2nd Women Street Photographers Virtual Exhibition 2021, Women Street Photographers Exhibition in Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico at the National Museum of Anthropology, “More Art of Coney Island” BWAC Gallery Red Hook, Brooklyn and currently is in the Women Street Photographers Exhibition in NYC 2023. In December of 2021, Carol’s interview, ON THE BOARDWALK, and in April 2022, part one of the Coney Island Polar Bears series, MAKING A SPLASH was featured on The Pictorial List website.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author/s, and are not necessarily shared by The Pictorial List and the team.

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