August 25, 2008
My grandmother had a painting of the sea in her dining room. The canvas depicted a violent sea at night. It was painted by an aunt and was both totally amateurish and utterly compelling. I can't tell you how many times I drowned myself in those waves. It was a scene not unlike the one below by Willem van de Velde (the great Dutch painter of the sea) or of the seascapes of countless artists, known and unknown, who have tackled versions of the same theme - a dramatic sea, threatening clouds, nature unfurled.
Photographers of course even at the birth of the medium were photographing the sea.
Gustave LeGray was out photographing the sea a few years after photography was invented and (I believe) was trying to recreate the drama of canvases of the great Romantic seascape painters of his day, artists such as Frederic Edwin Church,William Turner, and Winslow Homer. But LeGray was faced with a problem. If he properly exposed for the ocean, the sky would be blown out to white. And if he exposed for the sky, the ocean would be an underexposed featureless black so he pioneered a technique of double printing sky and sea from two negatives and 150 years later he is remembered for his seascapes (his work sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars).
The photographer DoDo Jin Ming is obviously steeped in all these traditions and by using vintage techniques similar to LeGray's (printing sea and sky from separate properly exposed negatives onto one image) and by managing to have herself placed almost directly within the maelstrom of crashing waves (often lowered by rope from rocky cliffs) she's managed to capture what some of the great seascape painters imagined while looking down into the froth from the safely of the cliffs above. In doing this, she manages to elevate this most banal of subject matter into something sublime.
Amazon UK has a copy of her book available. Doesn't seem to be available in the states.