Susan Henderson | Looking Closer (2017)

Archival pigment prints on Japanese Gampi paper
15cm x 22.5cm (image)
35cm x 28cm (paper)


The silence and solitude of an Australian beach is a paradox.
A beach is not silent, not with the constant roar of the waves and the bluster of the wind. And yet, the beach feels quiet. Our ears soon filter the white noise of wind and waves allowing our eyes to drift from the horizon, closer to the break to the tideline and down to the sand and seagrass beneath us. You can be alone at the beach, but there are always people nearby - you can drive miles to a beach in a national park on a rainy winter's day, and there's a couple walking their dog and there are some teens playing cricket and there's a child digging a hole. Though there is someone nearby, the space is plentiful and solitude is accessible to all.
Everyone gets a big bubble of personal space and the curious privacy only available in a public place. You step onto the beach and trudge through the sand, suddenly slowed like you've stepped into another gravity, another world. And yet, it feels like you've come home. A beach is just sand and water but it’s not just sand and water. Susan's Looking Closer series captures this tension of contradiction. The photos are of what we know are big open spaces, but they are constrained - we know there is far, far more outside the frame than within it. The water images speak to this, capturing small blocks of a thing so vast it cannot be perceived in its whole.
Similarly, the sand and grass images are cutouts of something larger but more imaginable. The tufts of beach grass, little islands in a sea of sand, the beach in micro - what kind of beach is it? Who is nearby? Is the artist alone? Has a busload of tourists been temporarily unloaded here? Are European backpackers drinking cask wine and camping over the dunes? Do the rich walk from their mansions to sunbathe here? Do Indigenous kids come here to fish as their ancestors did? Is it accessible, or is it a hike? Are the marks in the sand footprints, or are they the work of the weather? We look and our minds fill in the blanks, providing relief from the unknown.
By looking closely and obscuring the wider view, the images in this series evoke the loud silence, the public solitude, the paradox of the Australian beach.

- Julian Henderson (2017)