Texts used as a basis for visual presentations at art fairs and talks a few years ago.
The Sea: The Edge of Change
I’m aiming to explore what the sea means to me, how I interpret it, how it is used as a sounding board and hopefully provide inspiration for others to engage with the sea in their own personal way to tell new stories.
My principal work is at the beach, at the coast, on the rocks and facing the sea. It is the ever-changing possibilities of shore, sea and sky that engages me.
Often there is nothing on the horizon – no photogenic rocks, islands or cliff coast – just three bands of the sea, the beach and a cloudscape. As such, there is a challenge to construct new and inventive interpretations.
The sea, and the way it moves, reflects, and glows has transfixed and inspired photographers over the years with a compelling need to capture its mood. The sea draws us perhaps by the sense of power, the perception of force and the awareness of sound. Elemental and always in a state of flux, the sea transforms in colour depending on the weather or the light. It becomes the edge of change.
I see the beach as a variable boundary between the maritime and the terrestrial landscape. The beach is the most accessible way to the shoreline and where for much of the time nothing much seemingly happens. The tide comes and the tide goes. People arrive to pass the time usually in leisure activities. However, at the same time the beach is a place where a real transformation takes place. The tides create a shifting interaction between sea and land as part of it is revealed and then submerged. The boundary between sea and land alters on a daily basis and consequently the beach is a space neither wholly terrestrial nor yet completely maritime.
There is of course the physical presence of the beach but as photographers, we may also be transformed simply by our very presence on it. It is the potential of this physical and thoughtful transformation that inspires me. Perhaps it is because we are an island nation and the sea is a resource and pathway, leading over the horizon connecting with other lands and other peoples, or perhaps it is also a protective space. In some ways, the sea may present two extremes – an unwelcome wilderness or one that is familiar and strengthening, and it is as these points that resultant interactions are worth exploring.
My way of interpreting and responding emotionally, to the coast is through my photography. There is the perennial challenge to make an experience of being at the coast for, say, an hour into one 2D image. How can we capture the form and beauty, the sound, the power, the energy, the wild wind, the smell, the sting of the salt? Perhaps this can be achieved by visualising the inherent qualities of the sea possibly as an abstract looking at form and texture. Sometimes as creatives, we must go beyond documentary realism and take that leap of imagination to record a personal interpretation. What a fantastic medium for the communication of ideas and experience, fluid and ever changing. Even though observers of our photographs are physically distant, the challenge is to ensure they are not psychologically separated and can appreciate the elements of the sea – the wilderness, loneliness, isolation, power, energy, sound and it being the very edge of change.
Over the past three years I’ve developed a project called Sea Fever [and now Sea Observation] exploring these inherent qualities and to quote from the famous poem:
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
John Masefield, Sea Fever
For me, the siren is “a clear call that may not be denied” – the pull, the draw, the demand.
I would like to finish with a couple of other quotes:
People on land think of the sea as a void and emptiness haunted by mythological hazard. The sea marks the end of things. It is where life stops and the unknown begins. It is a necessary, comforting, fiction to conceive of the sea as the residence of gods and monsters. In fact the sea is just an alternative known world. Its topography is as intricate as that of land, its place names as particular and evocative, its maps and signposts rather more reliable.
Jonathan Raban, Coasting
isn’t a place
but a fact, and
Mary Oliver, The Waves
In these images, the sea is recorded across the beach or around rocks or other stationary anchor points such as sea groynes. Often the simplicity of just sand and sea feature so that the trails are the principal focus.
There are many different techniques to record wave trails and it is always worth experimenting with filtration, shutter speeds and focal lengths to capture the effect that you want.
Generally I look for a wave coming in, perhaps lapping around the tripod spikes, and then I just wait half a second or so for the wave to recede before closing the shutter.
Photographers may work through different phases and for a while, I was obsessed about recording wave trails with a stack of wave just above, stretching across the frame and there always had to be a very cloudy sky. I then became engaged with capturing wave trials with a very subtle sky.
It is often something like this that draws us back to the shoreline repeatedly because, although we may know our local coast extremely well, every time we venture out the conditions may be fantastic enabling the capture of new shapes and forms.
With my No Locale images, I look for an ethereal quality to smooth any textures in the sea and the sky. Very long exposure times of at least 100 seconds are very effective to minimise forms and texture, and sometimes in low light conditions, exposure times of 400 seconds are usual. For me these images are about peace, quietness, tranquillity and an attempt to render the sea as sublime.
However, why “No Locale”? It is often the case that coastal imagery has something human made included within the frame, for example, sea defences, a pier or some form of structure, which can anchor an image.
However, I often like a more ‘pure’ seascape as I do not want the presence of human interaction to obscure the looking at the space. Consequently, I want to create images made solely of air and water with no form of human trace.
Where these images were taken is of no importance, as they have no bearing on the locale. They have no topographical differences as I am really seeking an elemental theme. As the locale is not important, the images are in no sense views. With these, I aim to communicate the essence of the sea.
Compositional concerns such as lead in lines, Z shapes, and foreground interest are always useful although I would suggest we concentrate on what excites and engages us. If something does not communicate, it often does not move us. Respond, interpret the sea in your own unique way because of what it means to you, and allow your emotional response to tell you what interests you. Look for impact, creativity and the ability to evoke emotion.