Tag Archives: Coastlines

European Coastlines, ‘Moments Before The Flood’

In trying to understand the tension Carl de Keyzer seeks to present in his images of European coastlines, look to the World War II bunkers, tank traps and crumbling walls still present by the shore for starting points.

Lannoo Publishers

Moments Before the Flood

The decaying fortifications, much like the human response to rising ocean tides as examined by de Keyzer in his new book, Moments Before The Flood, are telling. They anticipate a massive threat, but cannot hope to prevent it: rising sea levels that would submerge entire countries in Europe present an overwhelming challenge to which most solutions are futile.

“Once it happens, not one system is going to stop it,” de Keyzer says of the potential results of global warming, which inspired him to begin the project as the media covered climate change with greater frequency. “How high can you build the walls, how much money can you spend on it?”

Although de Keyzer admits that the immediacy of the threat is debatable, the photographer’s compulsion to document what has amounted to more than 80,000 miles of European coastline stems from several motives: to observe life on the coast before it is swept away, examine what is being done to preserve it and underscore the tension that arises from an impending threat that overwhelms even the most ambitious attempts to stop it. Each individual picture displays a different mood and aspect of life by the sea—some desolate, some bucolic, but all foreboding when viewed together.

The project is remarkably thorough; de Keyzer describes working for several years with two assistants who would recommend seaside locations he should photograph, “pinning” thousands of different locations to Google Earth in each country, which the photographer would narrow down and enter into his GPS each time he arrived at a new location. He has been working on the project since 2007 and, to date, the project has taken him to more than 20 countries.

The book includes 200 images with nursery rhymes collected from children across Europe printed alongside the pictures to underscore the traditional notion of the shore as an enjoyable place, and thus one less prepared for the substantial danger of rising tides. De Keyzer’s approach to the project was inspired by the maritime paintings of the 18th century, which showed intense beauty paired with violent subject matter. Though the shipwrecks and sea battles are graphic and expressive, it is the context in which they are displayed that de Keyzer highlights for its dramatic tension. Often, the fearsome scenes hung in a placid living room, above a mantelpiece, or in a quiet museum gallery.

“It’s being neutralized. It becomes a commodity,” de Keyzer warns, speaking of the relationship between the decontextualized art and our reaction to the threat of rising tides. “That could mean that you no longer have to worry about it, because it’s there and it’s not real anymore.”

Moments Before The Flood is published by Lannoo, in conjunction with a waterfront exhibition in Ostend, Belgium, on view from May 17 – August 26. 

A Record of China’s Changing Coastlines

In recent years many contemporary photographers have focused their work on the rapid industrialization taking place in China. We’ve seen mega cities rise and industry boom along with the population. But, in a move away from the trend, Chinese photographer Zhang Xiao turned his attention to changes to China’s coastal areas. The work, currently on view at Hong Kong’s Blind Spot Gallery, records subtle and surreal moments of life by the sea. “These scenes are true reality, though they seem to be beyond our imagination,” Xiao says.

The photographer began the series in 2009 after quitting his job as at the Chongqing Morning Post in Chongqing city, China. He was drawn to the ocean, driven to snap his shutter when confronted with scenes of change. “The coastline is the frontier of China’s reform,” he says, “but also the first area of impact from external culture and the rapid economic development.”

Xiao’s attachment to the sea was not new: he was born in the coastal city of Yantai, which boasts about 25 miles of coastline. “It’s a pity that I seldom went to the seashore during my whole childhood,” he says, “but there’s always a strong affection towards the sea that remains in the bottom of my heart.”

He plans to continue working on the project until the end of this year, following his instinctual approach to picture making: wandering the beaches, looking for scenes of daily life to reveal something about modern life in China, capturing the people who are frolicking in the surf and looking for some kind of peace, lost in the beauty of the sea.

The series Coastline is on display at Hong Kong’s Blind Spot Gallery through March 10, 2012.

Zhang Xiao is a freelance photographer based in Shandong Province, China. He is represented by Troika Editions and you can see more of his work here.