The connection between humans and the sea is almost as old as the world itself, beginning when life on earth came into existence having developed in the deep sea around 15 million years ago[i]. Since that life developed into our human ancestors, people have been connected to the ocean as a source of food, a way to travel, and in more modern times, a place for sport, fun, and relaxation.
There is evidence that people have been making images of the sea, of coastal areas, and of human being’s relationship with the sea since prehistoric times. For example, ancient Hawaiian people recorded images of canoes and ships as petroglyphs; rock carvings, that are still visible today[ii]. So too is the civilisation of ancient Greece known for recording man’s interaction and connection with the sea through their ceramic decorations, whether a scene of everyday life or from a myth – for example this vase showing a scene from Homer’s Odyssey, depicting Odysseus having set sail to hear the song of the sirens[iii]:
More recently these images developed into paintings. Early painters also used their artistic medium to capture the relationship between man and sea, showing fishing boats for example, and later naval ships. The 16th century saw the emergence of the “world landscape” style of paintings[i]. These are paintings of panoramic seascapes made from a high vantage point, where people are shown quite small in relation to the rest of the picture, and the rest of landscape scene is shown as the majority of the image[ii]:
This interest in making images of sea/coastal scenes grew and led to the large amounts of maritime art (art works in which ships or boats are present), and marine art (an area of landscape art showing seas, oceans, coastal areas, without the inclusion of ships), we have today.
Charles Napier Hemy is one example of an artist who is well known for his numerous paintings of maritime and marine scenes in the 19th century. Although not originally from Cornwall, Hemy settled in Falmouth and it was there he created his well known works in his attempts to capture the ever changing aspects of the sea (see pg 42).
Hemy’s work shows the 19th century as a time when the sea was primarily a place of industry, of work, and not a place for fun or pleasure, although this view was changing. It was during this time that people started to see beaches as places of recreation and not just work or travel. Alongside this change in perception was the rise of photographic technology and with this came a different way of making images of beaches. Landscape paintings were followed with landscape photography. This also bought about a change in the manner of images being made. From landscapes, seascapes, and scenes of fisherman or trawlers, photography and the rise of beaches being viewed as places of leisure eventually led to other subjects being captured. More everyday scenes as populated by Martin Parr, the rise of tourist holiday photos and selfie culture, modern landscape photography, underwater photography, and sports photography - of surfers, for example.
Man’s early and ongoing relationship and fascination with the sea has been a source of inspiration for artists over many centuries and through various societies and civilisations. My interest in the relationship of humans and the coast comes as part of a long line of people drawn to this connection.
My interest in this connection also comes from a personal place of being drawn to the sea, and having lived near the sea for most of my life. Recently I have been struck by how so many others come to the sea, to beaches, for relaxation and respite. The coastal areas where I live are no longer solely places of work. Summer and winter in these places have very different feelings to them. In winter the beaches are mostly empty places of wild weather, where one is only likely to find dog-walkers, and particularly hardy surfers. Whereas in summer the beaches are filled with tourists, locals enjoying the warm weather, and many fair-weather surfers. This, along with the change in weather, transforms the feeling and atmosphere of the place from something wild to something tamed. These changes occur most strikingly with the change in seasons, but also come with changes throughout a day. Early morning, even in summer, the beach has a different atmosphere to the same place a few hours later. I am interested in examining these changes that occur in beaches near me, over the course of a day, as well as over several months, and the effect (or lack of) on the area.
One way I want to do this is via the viewpoint from which I will make images. I want to examine these scenes, and the changes within the scene, without being a part of it myself. To do this I will take photographs from a fairly distanced, elevated point of view. By doing this I will remove myself from the scene, observing the area without being physically close to it or in it. This will enable me to look critically at the subject of the photographs, and examine them from one day to the next. This will be very much in the world landscape school of landscape imagery. The photographs will be taken from a high vantage point and will show people as small occurrences in the work rather than the main focus. At this stage the project is very much still in an experimental phase, however although the work will be looking at how people appear in the space, I feel that the focus will be the beach and resulting impact on the natural part of the landscape.
[i] GARTHWAITE, J. 2018. “Why deep oceans gave life to the first big, complex organisms”. Available at: https://earth.stanford.edu/news/why-deep-oceans-gave-life-first-big-complex-organisms#gs.r5cvfr
Accessed on 21July2019
[ii] https://www.to-hawaii.com/petroglyphs.php Accessed on 23Jul2019
[iii] JONES, J. 2014. The top 10 ancient Greek artworks. The Guardian Online. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2014/aug/14/top-10-ancient-greek-artworks-jonathan-jones
Accessed on 23Jul2019
[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_art Accessed on 23Jul2019
[v]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_landscape Accessed on 23Jul2019