Book Review: Sea Level by Mandy Williams
Sea Level is a series of images made in Worthing, England where Mandy Williams lived as a teenager. Making images in familiar places is prominent in her work, and the diaristic nature of the project is both a comment on the sense of place she experiences, as well as the overlaid ideas of the appreciation, use or disuse of the land. The work in Sea Level could be described as an altered landscape, and this disruption is an evocative term and a way to consider Williams’ work in the context of the genre. The genre becomes metaphor for division, literally between people and physical space. The images made of the coast and the sea include gestural traces of the scratches and lines etched on the glass of beach shelters, or wind-blown sand and detritus, and occasionally a bar or bracket which literally frames the scene. The inclusion of these visual elements evoke influence of an invisible hand of the artist, much like mark making in conceptual drawings which include random, incidental or intentional registrations. The universe has a way of speaking through apparently random occurrences, but the fact that Williams’ images are anything but random speaks volumes. Graffiti, dust and neglect becomes part of the images, reinforcing the sense of melancholy which runs through many English seaside towns.
The absence and unseen presence of people in this work is significant. Williams’ parents had moved away but came back to Worthing. After her mother died, Williams visited her father every couple of weeks, and started making images for this series during one of their visits to the beach before her father passed away in 2016. The ever-changing nature of the sea, it’s constant adjustment of topography, and constant state of flux is a bittersweet nod to the nature of life. These images remind us of the nature of death and life and the seemingly random occurrence of how and when they will touch all of us.
Williams works with photography, video and sound to expand traditional representations of landscape. She approaches contemporary issues in a reflective way, experimenting with media and metaphor to create new narratives. Her recent works are about places which have an underlying narrative about human interaction or presence. “The beauty of a landscape isn’t important to me in a finished photograph. Many of my photographs show a location that has been compromised – either by environmental or political factors or by its connection to a past narrative,”Williams writes in her project statement. “They can also be disrupted by surface interventions and flaws, as in the Sea Level and Unseen Landscapes series. The locations are never random; they are particular sites that I return to and obsess over. Sometimes these are personal as in Fairways, the documentation of my father’s empty house, and Re:Place, where events from the past are overwritten by present actions.”
Williams’ body of work covers range of subjects, but centers around the theme of the social dynamics arising from contemporary culture, and particularly how personal identity is affected by environment and how our social and affective lives interconnect. This interest in the psychology of place has been a catalyst for both autobiographical and documentary approaches to more conceptual ones. Much of her photographic and video works highlight the environment, although some refer more broadly to place and sites in transition. In this way, Sea Level fits smartly and sublimely in her larger body of work. It is now in its second edition and can be obtained through Another Place Press.
Sea Level by Mandy Williams
32 pp / 190 x 230mm
Second edition of 100
Published by Another Place Press : Field Notes series of zines
Mandy Williams is a London based artist. Her Sea Level series was shortlisted for the 2018 Hariban Award and was a finalist in the 2018 Julia Margaret Cameron Awards. She has earned an MA Photography (Distinction), LCC, University of the Arts London, BA (Hons) History of Art, Warwick University, and Graduate Diploma Communications Film, Goldsmith’s College. Her work is included in collections at University of the Arts Art Collection, London, the UK Parliament Art Collection, and she is represented by Millennium Images and Land Art Agency.
FIELD NOTES is a successful series of affordable zines showcasing photography projects which explore our relationship with ‘place’. Established in 2015 by Iain Sarjeant, Another Place Press is a small independent publishing press based in the Scottish Highlands. APP showcases contemporary photography projects which explore our relationship with ‘place’.