We rely on our oceans for food, ecosystem services, energy and transportation, yet it is a world rarely seen. In this socially distanced, visually-led exhibition, the experience of work and play at sea will be displayed through the lens of six seafarers and researchers – from the large-scale panoramic to the intensely intimate – bringing together photography taken around the world, from the reefs of Mexico to the isolation of Antarctica, to document the myriad ways life can be spent at sea.
Perceptions of the sea often recall historical rather than contemporary realities. Through photographs taken by people employed in the maritime world, Exposure: Lives at Sea offers a snapshot into life at sea today, seen through the seafarers’ lens. It will cover isolation and camaraderie, science and survival, climate change and conservation – the lived experience of men and women at sea.
It is a life that often brings seafarers into contact with extreme environments. Bitter Alaskan waves crash into the images captured by commercial fisher, Corey Arnold. These photographs contrast the icy cold of the Alaskan seas with the warmth of camaraderie amongst the seafarers living on board. The crew battle nature to bring in sustainably sourced fish, whilst also highlighting the challenges of a proposed mine upstream which could impact their way of life.
As home and work collide for periods of time spent at sea, friendships are forged. In Scotland, Peter Iain Campbell specifically trained to work on oil rigs in order to capture unique experiences. He reveals the human stories of people working in one of the most challenging environments through evocative portraits and isolated shots of the oil rigs they call home.
Seafarers and researchers are isolated for long periods, united by separation from their families and friends ashore. Micha? Krzysztofowicz’s photography captures isolation in one of the most remote workplaces on Earth – the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley IV Research Station. Once the supply ships leave in the winter, the thirteen researchers are left alone for eight months.
As well as capturing the joy when this isolation comes to an end, Krzysztofowicz’s photography also tells a touching story of how he remained close to his partner during this separation. Asystent is a teddy bear that was given to Krzysztofowicz by his partner before he left and makes a cameo appearance in some images – a code to his partner that he is thinking of and missing her while they are apart. Visitors to this exhibition will have a chance to meet Asystent and see the breathtaking Antarctic world he witnessed.
Camaraderie on board helps alleviate the experience of isolation many seafarers share, not least for Popescu Cezar Gabriel, who spent an additional three months at sea in 2020, unable to dock in Brazil due to the coronavirus pandemic – an experience captured in his photograph Cargo Operations During Pandemic. It is this sense of community that prevails in his photography. Seafarers swim together on a flooded deck, and laugh together during ‘crossing the line’ traditions, as they mark the ship crossing the equator. The joy of lives spent together at sea while undertaking mentally and physically challenging work radiate in his images.
The story of lives at sea today cannot ignore the threat climate change presents. Many of those working at sea are now engaged in climate science and conservation, ensuring the survival of our seas and marine life. Jennifer Adler, a conservation photographer and underwater journalist, delves into an unchartered world beneath the surface. Her images reveal the feats researchers accomplish as they navigate underwater realms, assessing the health of our oceans to establish how best we can protect them.
In Mexico, Octavio Aburto uses his photography to question how you can balance ecotourism and development. By charting the health of the reef in Mexico, through photography of healthy, diverse and abundant marine life, he aims to use science to influence conservation in the region.
Together, these six individual experiences offer a snapshot into the varied ways life is spent at sea. Science and survival go hand-in-hand, whether on board a ship or beneath the waves.
The New Insights Gallery, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, SE10
Opening on 20 November 2020
Enquiries: 020 8858 4422
Main image: By kind permission of artist. © Michal Krzysztofowic