These are photographs of a world without daylight. Each is made on large-format plate film, on the night of a full moon, and after astronomical dusk, when the sun has dipped to more than -18 degrees below the Earth’s horizon.
I shoot the -18 Degrees photographs on the coasts of Great Britain, Italy, Wales, and Scotland, long after everyone else– save perhaps for the rare fisherman– has gone to sleep. I stay out all night, and the shutter of my camera remains open for one to three hours at a time.
Digital technologies have made it possible for photographers to make similar images in shorter exposures, but for me, there’s magic in the silence of waiting. Throughout the night, the shore shifts; the waves blur, and the clouds dance across a monochromatic, moonlit sky.
As with Seascapes by Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, the -18 Degrees images are bisected horizontally. The frame is broken into two equal halves; one is water, and the other is air. The similarities shared by the pictures highlight their differences; each one diverges from the last, and none can ever be replicated.
Unlike Sugimoto’s photographs, mine are in colour, and while comparisons to abstract expressionist Mark Rothko are inevitable, -18 Degrees also recalls the work of the post-war French painter Yves Klein.
In 1957, five years before his death, Klein trademarked his own shade of blue: International Klein Blue, or IKB. Two years later, the artist gave a lecture at the Sorbonne, in which he famously said, “Blue has no dimensions.” He believed that pure blue, because it was the colour of the sea and the sky, could somehow connect us to the most abstract aspects of our existence.
Unlike my Moonlight series, -18 Degrees has no dimensions. There are no identifiable objects interrupting the frame, and the eye is anchored nowhere. The photographs take a long time to make, and they ask for our time in return. We try to take a brief glance, but we end up hypnotised by the borderless expanse of blue.
I’ve wondered if these photographs are too simple– if, like Klein’s 200-plus blue paintings, they could be seen as blank or empty. But within the void, on these endless nights spent at sea, I find something to hold onto. -18 Degrees has given me license to return to an essential and ineffable aspect of what it means to be alive. These are not photographs of nothing; they are photographs of everything.