Upon the Sea...

My eyes following
Until the bird was lost at sea,
Found a small island
- Matsu Basho 

When planning the photography for Offshore I was drawn to other examples of where the sea, or island life, had been made the focal point in photography, and the other arts.  My reference points ranged from Melville's Moby Dick and Shakespeare's The Tempest, to the photographic seascapes produced by Hiroshi Sugimoto and Mark Power.

Moby Dick by Alexiuss

Although each of these photographers approached the sea in very different ways I was drawn to both, for the poetic (Sugimoto) and the document (Power).  And the sea, in all of the sources mentioned, ranges from tepid to tempestuous - true to the mercurial nature of the ocean.  On Rathlin, the rougher sprays and surf are more common due to the island's geogrpahy (it is located at a flux point between the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea and the Irish Sea) and thus Offshore features some ocean-based imagery closer to that of Mark Power, where the sea is pulsing with motion and majestically alive - not like the frozen idyl presented by Sugimoto.

“Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all." (Herman Melville, Moby Dick)

[The Shipping Forecast, Mark Power, 1996]

Photographs focusing on the subjective experience by Naoya Hatakeyama (particularly his River series) and Elina Brotherus, as well as Paul Graham, Daido Moriyma and Jacob Aue Sobol have also played a major part in my visual diet during this process.  Each of the aforementioned photographers have a unique approach to framing and processing their work, all of which allows for a personalised style or approach to both viewing the world and making photographs.

[Naoya Hatakeyama, River, 1993-94]

[I, Tokyo, Jacob Aue Sobol, 2008]

In the case of Moriyama and Graham their work is definitely more informed by the structures of poetry, specifically the haiku.  The fleeting moments that are captured by the photographers echo haiku poems by Basho or Issa.  Graham refers to his photography in a shimmer of possibility as 'filmic haiku', and it is.  In each of the short narratives he follows a moment and through his focus he allows the viewer to tease out slight details from the photographs, and this summation offers very little of the larger picture but allows for submersion in a scene.

Sea foam--
In the fleeting wave
A Heike crab.
[Issa, 1793]

The attention to details, the significance in things passing - mono no aware.  This is rife within the history of the haiku, and has permeated into contemporary Japanese aesthetics and art practice.  The literature of Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965) is highly praised and widely read because of his attention to this culturally specific aesthetic.  In his essay In Praise of Shadows (1993) he ruminates on the affect of light and shadow in relation to lacquerware, toilets, theatre, food, and all manner of things.  Tanizaki's writing has been a source of inspiration for Sugimoto, who has developed a very particular appreciation of light and shadow.  His projects Seascapes and Theatres consist of longer exposures to capture the play of light, time, and space.  Although this could be perceived as being more grand, or atmospheric, than the 'snapshot' aesthetic attributed to Graham or Moriyama's work they have the same appreciation for the transient.

[Baltic Sea, Seascapes, Sugimoto Hiroshi, 1996]

[Tri City Drive-In, Theatres, Sugimoto Hiroshi, 1993]

[Cherries Washington and North Broad New Orleans, a shimmer of possibility, Paul Graham, 2006]

With all of this in mind I planned and photographed Offshore.  Now I have planned to show five large prints that work in series at the OUT | TUO show in Catalyst Arts (Belfast), which opens Thursday 17th of this month.  Alongside this I have designed a thin and easily-afforadable photobook, modelled on the Japanese photobook culture - where the printed page is the primary format for viewing and consuming photography.


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