Littoral establishes connections between photographic and film material from the National Maritime Museum's collections. It reflects upon the subject matter, locations and visual aesthetic of photographer Ansel Adams, whose work is currently on display in the exhibition Photography from the Mountains to the Sea.
Developed as part of a curatorial residency, Littoral explores some of the associations of the shoreline as the threshold between sea and land. The word ‘littoral’ refers literally to the coastal zone between the high water mark and the water’s edge. It is a compelling site precisely because it is a site of unrest, an indeterminate border between eroding waves breaking and receding, in continual renegotiation and flux. It is the zone where detritus is washed ashore only as fragments of what remains concealed by the sea.
The exhibition Littoral invokes this indeterminacy and ambiguity regarding the sea’s limits in order to explore not only the edge of the sea but the very limits of looking itself, the camera frame, and also the limits of the archive in its capacity to contain, order and reveal as well as to conceal information.
The film Report from the Seabed (1946) is a self-proclaimed record of research, documenting early use of the underwater 'cine camera'. It was intended as an instructional film for the mechanics and possible uses for the technology. The film documents young men free diving, and exploring the wreck of the Beconsfield in the Mediterranean Sea as well as the wreck of a destroyer and a submarine. In the context of this display this film establishes the camera as a tool that both frames and extends vision, in this case beneath the threshold of the waterline.
Midget Submarine Trials (Late World War II) depicts efforts at submerging a midget submarine at sea, a different record of research. These failed efforts at submerging a submarine at times serve as a visual analogy of the image of the dead whale, half submerged in the Atlantic, located alongside it. Both of these images signal the inherent limits of looking itself, the failure of looking alone in establishing comparable meaning in an image. This is further iterated in the limited visibility that the ocean waterline itself affords the unaided eye.
Compass Lounge co-curated displays
Littoral is part of a programme of co-curated exhibitions in the Compass Lounge, offering different perspectives on the National Maritime Museum collections.
About the curator
Amy Watson is a curator in residence at Royal Museums Greenwich, undertaking research in the photographic and film archives. She will be realising a series of events as part of the Ansel Adams Exhibition programming in 2013, including a collaborative performance with the experimental choral ensemble Musarc, a screening of works by and discussion with Uriel Orlow, and a screening of material from Lux as part of a film festival at the Museum.
Special thanks to the following people for their invaluable assistance: Josh Akin, Andrew Choong, Quintin Colville, Jane Findlay, Sally Golding, David Hodge, Chris King, Jeremy Michell, William Punter and Bob Todd.