Photographer James Cant’s Divided to the Ocean, has transformed LCC’s exterior walls into a giant exhibition space. The work, displayed on 5 meter high banners stretched across three walls, features a series of striking portraits of individuals who have migrated to England by sea. James reveals the story behind the banners.
Tell us about Divided to the Ocean
Divided to the Ocean is a body of work I produced while on the MA Photography at LCC in 2009. The work is named after a line from the Grace Nichols poem, Wherever I Hang.
‘I don’t really know where I belaang
Yes divided to de ocean
Divided to do bone’
The series comprises 11 portraits of individuals, including my own father, who have migrated to England by sea. It considers aspects of migration through the personal and individual, rather than the geopolitical.
How did you create the work?
The photographs are palimpsests of 24 images recording a period spanning high water. I took each individual to the approaches to their port of arrival and photographed them there. The subsequent backgrounds are seascapes of the actual waters that they crossed.
What types of themes or messages are you trying to communicate through your photographs?
One theme that has always interested me – and is something that’s come out in doing the MA – are questions around identity and a sense of self. In this particular work, the sea and tide are used as metaphors to consider divisions of time, space and self and a potential for melancholy in the processes of emigration. The notion of an ebbing and flowing tide acts to both connect and divide the individuals to their land of origin.
What attracts you to portrait photography?
There are many aspects of photographing people that interest me. The dialogical exchange that goes on between the photographer and the subject is fascinating. That interaction can have different levels of influence, coming from both sides. And it creates elements of the unknown, which I enjoy. More than that, once you get deeper into the question of portraiture and the nature of subjectivity and identity you are left with really interesting areas to explore.
Why the MA?
Having worked commercially for 15 years, I wanted to approach my work with an intellectual rigour and make it purely my own photography again. For me the MA wasn’t about challenging me in terms of photographic craft – which doesn’t mean I didn’t experiment – but it helped me to revisit photography and think about its meaning and ontology more thoroughly. It opened up new avenues of investigation but also meant that I really had to consider the more instinctive aspects of my approach. There isn’t anywhere to hide behind wishy-washy statements on the MA course.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a body of work connected to a project I completed during the MA. I am thinking about Juliet Mitchell’s book Siblings and trying to use family portraits to consider questions of subjectivity within the family.
James’ work will be displayed on the exterior of LCC until for the end of the Summer Show period.
To see more of James’ projects visit his website http://www.jcant.co.uk