FTWeekend Magazine’s August photography special turns to the coast, as place, concept, source of inspiration. For the subjects of Sophie Calle’s images, it is a site of discovery; in Edmund Clark’s they question what constitutes a border. Ying Ang’s work emanates from the underworld of the Gold Coast and, for Ingrid Pollard, it becomes a source of personal history. Like the shoreline itself, these works are likely to look different with time.
“When I was a child, I was eager for the sea,” writes Zhang Xiao in the introduction to his photobook Coastline. Born in the city of Yantai on the coast of Shandong province, Zhang sees the 18,000 kilometres of China’s coastline as the focal point of the country’s transformation in recent decades. The multitude of construction projects and the massive flow of people from rural to urban areas, as well as much of the nation’s wealth, are concentrated along the coast.
Zhang recalls how, when he was on the road taking the photographs for this project, people often asked him questions. “‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Is there anything here worth taking pictures of?’ I also asked myself the same question, ‘Why did I come here?’, and I always answered, ‘Just to see it, to look around.’ I want to record moments of China as it is now, to record the reality of the people and the scenery with my camera, and to look toward the sea.”
The sea becomes a place of physical and psychological retreat, something that can’t easily be transformed by human hands. It is an idea as much as a reality, mysterious, unknowable and yet familiar. As Zhang writes, “The sea is the beginning of lives and dreams.” Words by Josh Lustig
As the UK’s frontier with continental Europe, the town of Dover and its famous white cliffs are imbued with historical significance. This is a place of arrival and departure by sea, and a site of resistance and defence.
The Strait of Dover, in the English Channel, is the busiest shipping lane in the world. The Port of Dover is the busiest roll-on-roll-off freight and passenger route in Europe. Yet Dover’s residents voted by a substantial majority to leave the EU.
Post-Brexit, the area is currently in the news for the long, snaking queues of stationary lorries and holiday traffic there.
Dover Harbour has also been the primary place of arrival for people and families picked up in the English Channel while making their way to Britain to seek asylum. The UK Border Force then sorts them into age and gender categories for processing elsewhere. Single men are transported separately to the holding facility at nearby Manston airfield by staff from the same company that this year escorted crews off P&O Ferries, after they were sacked without warning and replaced with agency staff paid less than the legal minimum wage.
I was born in Dover and have returned to the cliffs and beaches of east Kent all my life, but I had never spent much time in the town itself. Like most people, I passed through it on my way to somewhere else. The divisions created by the Brexit debate moved me to walk its streets. Current political and social tensions sustain this imperative.
This is a work in progress. It’s a personal reflection on the area’s significance through its architecture, landscape and the geology of chalk: this slab of whiteness, beneath the South Downs, that erodes as the cliff face meets the elements at Dover. Words by Edmund Clark
Voir la mer
In Istanbul, a city surrounded by sea, I met people who had never seen it. I took them to the shore of the Black Sea. They came to the water’s edge, separately, eyes lowered, closed or masked. I was behind them. I asked them to look out to sea and then to turn back towards me to show me these eyes that had just seen the sea for the first time. Words by Sophie Calle.
The coast is a recurring theme in Ingrid Pollard’s work. In “Oceans Apart”, she brings together archival images of British colonialism and slavery with her own short texts and photographs. Hand-tinted family pictures became “representations of black people doing regular things like being at the seaside in the 1950s. You didn’t see that at the time,” she says, “not on postcards. So I made my own.” Words by Griselda Murray Brown
These photographs were made at night during religious festivities in a seaside village in Tamil Nadu, southern India, where people throng to celebrate Kali, the Hindu goddess of death, for one week every year. Devotees transform into mythical creatures and celestial beings. They enter a frenzied state of trance after which they are carried to the sea, exhausted, to wash off the masquerade. This constantly blurring margin between land and water becomes a point of release beyond which bathers experience fear, surprise, anger, sadness, trust, anticipation, excitement, contempt and also rapture. The physical coastline becomes a metaphor for a ruptured piece of skin barely holding together a volatile state of being ready to explode. Words by Sohrab Hura
I was raised on the taste of lawnmower fumes in the air and the dark gleam of perpetually circling crows. It was in this Lynchian landscape, dominated by intolerance and unexpected violence, that I became a reluctant witness to more crimes than I could names by the time I was old enough to leave. “A sunny place for shady people” was a phrase that began circulating in the Australian media when referring to the ongoing melodramas of criminals who ended up settling on the Gold Coast. The city became known as a perfect strip of golden beach where someone of ill repute could reinvent themself, where tales of execution-style killings at the local mall were whispered behind pastel-coloured walls and porcelain-veneered grins. Once labelled as the tourist capital and now declared the crime capital of Australia, this is a tale of a place that laid the flawed foundation of its character upon a mirage of tranquillity. Words by Ying Ang
Ingrid Pollard: Carbon Slowly Turning is at Turner Contemporary. Three Drops of Blood at Thelma Hulbert Gallery and There and Then at The Museum of English Rural Life
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