Voyages – maritime photography exhibition

Rebecca Wallersteiner explores ‘Voyages, the Science Museum’s haunting new maritime photography exhibition which creates epic drama from historic model ships

Marcel Proust wrote, ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.’

Voyages, a new exhibition which is being shown at the Science Museum, in Kensington until 25th June is an imaginative reinterpretation of the institution’s much-loved collection of historic model ships charting the development of maritime history. Photographed through their protective sheeting by internationally acclaimed photographers Anderson & Low, ghostly images of ships recall the drama and sense of adventure of epic 18th and 19thcentury seascapes by J.M.W. Turner and Whistler.

Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group comments, “Anderson & Low have found entirely new and original stories to tell of these old objects. I am thrilled that the Science Museum Group’s collections have been re-imagined and revealed in such an incisive and profound way.” The special effects were achieved by shooting the replicas — of merchant vessels, fighting ships, junks and more – through the sheeting that covers them to ward off dust and degeneration. The artists Anderson and Low said, “One of the singular parallels in the history of science and art is that one can look at the world in a different way, and re-imagine what it might be.” Turner said ‘I paint what I see, not what I know to be there.’ The physicist William Bragg said ‘The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.’

Looking at these models through the protective sheeting that covers them has had a radical effect on both scale and context. Created using only ambient light, the resulting photographs resemble monumental Turner-esque seascapes and draw on the recurring themes of fantasy, artifice and perception common in Anderson & Low’s many varied works.

Having been displayed for almost half a century before the decommissioning of the Science Museum’s Shipping Galleries in 2012, the models have been subject to careful conservation over the intervening five year period. This new series of photographs gives new life to a valued part of the UK’s national collection.

Early British traditions of paintings of the sea were primarily connected with the Navy, and the main focus was notable ships and battle scenes. At the end of the 18th century the sea itself became the subject of painting, as a force of sublime power and drama. Interestingly, at the same time, the coast, a much more mundane aspect of man’s relationship with the sea, also became increasing interesting to artists and patrons. Anderson & Low’s photography continue in this romantic and painterly British and Dutch seascape tradition.

Quotes from distinguished authors that are chosen to accompany the exhibition include one from contemporary Japanese writer Haruki Murakami: “It is hard to tell the difference between sea and sky, between voyage and sea, between reality and the workings of the heart.”

This exhibition is bound to make visitors feel nostalgic for adventure at sea.

Voyages is open daily at the Science Museum, in Kensington, at the Exhibition Road, London SW7 until 25 June 2017, 2017, with late opening until 22.00 each Friday (last entry 21.00) and at Lates on the last Wednesday of each month. Free Entry

Voyages, a book by Anderson & Low featuring 43 full-colour plates and contributions from Science Museum Group Director Ian Blatchford and Dr David Rooney, the Museum’s Keeper of Technologies and Engineering, will be published to accompany the exhibition. RRP £40.

Rebecca Wallersteiner
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