Create a series of work (aim for 7–10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place that you’ve looked at so far in this course. Use the written word to play a part in its creation.
You may be inspired by a poem, song or a novel or decide to write your own fictive piece. You may draw upon other people’s words via eavesdropping or another source or use extracts from journals. You might find interesting textual accounts in archives in libraries that could inform this assignment. Allow your creativity to be spurred on by spending time with these words and reflecting on them.
The theme that I chose for this assignment is based on a feeling of homesickness, loneliness, love and loss. It came about from a conversation with a close friend who was feeling homesick for the seaside now that she had moved inland, only about 20 minutes away by car but she felt cut off. We were neighbours in Torquay and up until three years ago, I had a sea view and could walk to the coast in less than five minutes. I now live a 15 minute walk away and have no sea view. There is a need to see the sea each day and I often take the long route so that I can get a glimpse. When I come home from travelling, I always take the road home that gives the best view over Torbay. She felt the same and we were walking partners, talking over life while briskly walking along the seafront and back. It got me thinking about the way that the sea is part of who I am, where I live and what it means to me. There is a sense of loneliness sometimes as it is so vast – where does it end when you look out to the horizon – but then it is so familiar – the changing tides, the power it has to destroy but then soothe and how it reflects light that changes throughout the day and the seasons.
In addition to the ongoing conversations about this with my friend, I also had in mind the song Staring at the Sea by The Blow Monkeys (from the album Staring at the Sea, Nova Sales & Distribution (UK) Ltd, 2011). In particular, a couple of lines:
You’re the future I won’t know, I just learned to live without you You’re the past I can’t let go, somewhere deep inside my soul
The words refer to so many emotions and situations as well as suggesting several different situations in which to use them, and truly “I could spend each and every day/ staring at the sea”.
I narrowed down the images to ten that fitted my idea, including a sunrise, a sunset and full daylight so that it captures the passage of time that we have during a day, a week, a year and so on. There are few people in them and if there are then they are a minimal presence except for one of Julie sitting on the beach where she grew up. She features because she began the exploration of the idea of love and loss, and homesickness for something intangible. The other people are secondary to the landscape and actually it is their absence that accentuates the feeling of space and longing. Many benches around the bay have flowers attached to them – it is common for people to buy the benches in memory of a loved one passed on to the next life, and the flowers are there to commemorate the days and dates that matter to them. I used a wide aperture in order to blur the background and reduce the focus to the flowers on the bench but it is still possible to get an idea of location. This is another sense of nostalgia, of yearning for a person now gone but still living in our minds. Monika Takvam talks about nostalgia in her introduction to a longer paper on the subject: “Over time, the use of the word has progressively evolved to describe a desire to return to another time. Significantly, it is now characterized by yearning and distance (both in time and space); it is the desire to return, when returning is no longer possible”.(Takvam, M. and Vale, S., Introduction to Nostalgias: Visualising Longing special issue, Pages 99-102 | Published online: 21 Oct 2016). When people pass away, the people left behind feel their loss in an almost physical way. This is what is bound up with memories of Torquay for Julie, whose husband died about fifteen years ago leaving her with two small children. Part of her mourning for the sea is mourning for the life that she lost when he died.
I chose to keep the colours rich and deep. In a way, that is how I see my surroundings. Once I had chosen the ten images, I then started thinking about locating them and brought in the maps with the basic idea of pinning photos to it and tying cotton between pins. It reminded me of how I would decorate walls of my student room with pictures and photos, and it seemed fitting to build up the total image as though it was done over time. It felt wrong destroying the perfection of a printed photograph but once I started, it was ok. I bent them, tore them and scrunched them up as a way of making them look as though they had been picked up several times then moved. Sticky tape, masking tape and drawing pins helped to make it look like a project. I had cut up smaller versions of the photographs in order to try this out on a smaller scale, and had inadvertently cut out some blanks at the same time. I used these to write some of the lyrics and pin them to the board too; it personalises it through having handwritten words. I then photographed close-ups of parts of it to make up the set of images. The map is of where I live, the places around me and underlines how important the sea is to those who live here. I took a photograph of Julie and sewed some fine ropes around her that attach her to the beach and then over to Torquay. They are not holding her tight, they are caressing her and holding her safe. This came from looking at the work of Annegret Soltau, suggested by my tutor as a reference point after my last assignment. This was written about her practice in an article promoting an exhibition: “The thread that she uses in her performances and self-portraits encompasses faces and bodies like a safe cocoon; hidden and distorted but also flexible. The thread used for sewing over the photographs can also be understood as an element of drawing. However, it also frees the photographs from their purely visual experience and transports them into a haptic reality.” Sewing white thread onto a photograph subtly alters the meaning and makes the viewer think about what they are and why they are there.
I have included the original images as well as part of the work as a reference point. They flow well as a set but I was interested in where they took me when I related them to the map and the bigger picture. This assignment picks up the theme of the sea and how it affects people. It can induce a sense of belonging that is hard to ignore when not near the coast, and the may different versions that it can create every day through light and weather. I hope I have captured this in these images.
This final quote fits well with my thinking when walking round photographing the seashore, by Hanya Yanagihara.
“But if there is a cure for the invisibility of loneliness, it is this. It is why, depending on who you are, that click of the camera’s shutter is a sound that evokes either anxiety or relief. Click: I see you. Click: I see you. Click: I see you. You are not alone.”
Staring at the Sea
By Robert Howard and The Blow Monkeys
Sunlight sparkles on the bay, sailboats drift upon the breeze
I could spend each and every day, staring at the sea
I remember all the times and all those things you used to say
“Only wise men play the fool”, and “every dog will have its day”
And I never felt so free, and I never felt so wanted
They were days just you and me, staring at the sea
You’re the future I won’t know, I just learned to live without you
You’re the past I can’t let go, somewhere deep inside my soul
Just as far as you can see, it’s three miles to the horizon
Feels just like eternity, staring at the sea
Staring at the sea, staring at the sea…..
Yanagihara, H., Loneliness Belongs to the Photographer, The New Yorker online edition, July 10, 2016 (accessed 5 April 2018)
Article in Wall Street International Magazine, Promoting an exhibition by Annegret Soltau, 9 Feb — 18 Mar 2017 at the Galerie Anita Beckers in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. 28 February 2017 accessed 12.12.2017)
Takvam, M. and Vale, S., Introduction to Nostalgias: Visualising Longing special issue, Pages 99-102 | Published online: 21 Oct 2016, (accessed 12.4.18)