Article - Interview

Carly Seller discusses her project ‘Drowned’

Carly Sellar

CETell us about your project ‘Drowned’; what led you to investigating this subject matter?

CSI have always been quite fascinated with death and decay and I guess I have a tendency to be drawn to morbid subjects. However the basis of my work always develops from my interest in nature and natural environments. I am interested in the ways people form emotional attachments towards places and how these bonds are developed through knowledge of the history of the site in question. More specifically I was interested in the concept of the aftermath in relation to tragedy, and I was looking for a way to translate this emotional charge through photography.

Rather than looking towards sites where traces of what has happened are visible such as the destruction found in sites of natural disasters, I looked at cases of drowning and people lost at sea due to the lack of traces of what has occurred. The sea is constantly changing the coastline, clearing prints from the sand with a wave to more significant erosion of the surrounding land over time. After I had got the idea of drowning in my head I spoke to someone who had had a near drowning experience and remembered it quite clearly. This inspired me to look into the process of drowning, the biology behind it, and I guess everything stemmed from there.

Carly Seller 'Male, thirty-nine'

CEAesthetically the images are very alluring; the surfaces dreamy and painterly, yet the subject of the project dark. Could you talk about this relationship and what led you to approach the project in this way?

CSI felt that with this particular subject matter it was important to create the image as an open contemplation space. To make people think and question rather than cause discomfort in the viewer. I like the way photography can be used to make people second-guess what they are looking at. It’s an interesting inner conflict to contrast beauty and tragedy. Drowning is a very violent and distressing process, however, one of the final stages before death is a strong sense of euphoria and calm, which comes from the extreme lack of oxygen to the brain. Through the images I wanted to somehow capture this sense of euphoria, which is what led me to create the relationship between time, site and exposure of the image, taking the time it takes to die from drowning after immersion in water and translating this to the time of exposure of the photograph.

CEHow did you find your sites to photograph?

CSAfter initial research into those drowned or lost at sea it became apparent that the southwest coastline of the UK had more cases per square mile than the rest of the UK. I narrowed down the area to the Northern coastline of Cornwall, then trawled through local newspaper reports in order to find sites where there had been cases of people drowning or being lost at sea. During my research the most useful sources were newspaper archives, both national and ones local to the specific areas. I also contacted lifeboat services and coastguards in the area who were very helpful however the information they can provide is understandably very limited.

CEHow important is text to the images? (Without reading your statement the image titles obviously give a human context to the otherwise unpeopled images without being too descriptive – do you always intend the work to be seen with the statement, or are the titles enough? Could you tell us about these decisions?)

CSText is very important to the reading of the images. I have used text in a few different forms that form understanding when used individually but when used together, develop a much deeper understanding of the images. The combination of the project title (‘Drowned’), and the individual image titles (such as ‘Male, thirty-nine’) are structured in a way that allows the viewer to engage with the work. By using the image titles to apply the human context, viewers can form an understanding behind the images. In an ideal world I would prefer the statement text to be shown with the images, however the statement is not a vital component to the basic understanding of the images. What the statement does is add another dimension to the project, creating a much deeper understanding of the work by bridging the relationship between the image-making process and the biological process of drowning that the images refer to.

CECould you tell us about the specific photograph (Male, thirty-nine) that we have chosen for Contact Editions? Is there a story behind this image?

CSOf the whole series this particular image was the most challenging to create. The coast is not the most forgiving of locations at the best of times, but at this site I got an overwhelming feeling that the cove just didn’t want me to be there. The sea was quite choppy so I had to set up myself and the tripod balanced over two rocks. On a previous attempt for this particular shot I was forced to cancel due to an unexpected hail storm, other exposures were ruined by strong waves dislodging the tripod, not a good feeling when you’re 7 minutes into an 8 minute exposure. However, beyond all the failed exposures and adverse weather, the making of the images was a very immersing process. As well as keeping an eye on the stopwatch, it was important to concentrate on how the tide was moving during the exposure, to make sure that there was always a safe way out of the site. When you look at the sea and sea how it flows and pushes its way inland, even when it is rough and rugged, it is easy to become mesmerized by it. It’s a very calming process but it also shows how easily people can get swept under its powerful waves and drown.

About Carly Seller

Carly Seller is a London based photographer working on commissions and self-initiated projects. Her personal work is concerned with the relationships people have with nature and natural environments through which she examines how these relationships are affected by the history of the places she photographs. She gained a BA Hons in Photographic Art from the University of Wales, Newport in 2008 and has had her work exhibited across the UK.

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