“I visit the beach for many reasons,
for fun and adventure,
but also for solace”
SUMMER AT THE SEASIDE. The coast holds a special place in the hearts and minds of many Australians. Most of us are immigrants or settler-descendants and the sea is from whence we came. While the vast dry heart of the island continent is alien and terrifying, the beach is familiar and fiercely egalitarian. All life is here. And when they leave, their detritus remains or is washed away to be deposited on some distant stretch of sand, along with natural marine debris.
Narelle Autio’s photographic practice has always focused on the coastline and the way Australians interact with water: from the bustle of the beach to the exhilaration of plunging into the ocean, abandoning control for a few ecstatic moments amid a swirling galaxy of bubbles. Her more recent series, ‘The Summer of Us’, began when she, her husband (photographer Trent Parke), and their boys Jem and Dash moved to South Australia to set up home in a seaside suburb of Adelaide. With a young family, photography had necessarily been on the back burner, but the need to get back behind the camera was once more boiling over.
It started with walks, beachcombing and bringing home the treasure found. “I have always been a collector,” Narelle explains. “Things that I admire, am fascinated by or things that make me smile.” But now there were two more explorers as Jem and his young brother Dash scoured the shoreline with her. “Their eyes were less judgemental. They were curious. The more we looked the more we found.”
The collection grew.
As the months drew on the house, garage and garden filled with the riches of jetsam. A penguin cadaver in the freezer, sharks drying in the garage, crabs on the windowsill and everywhere myriad orphaned possessions: a glove embroidered with seaweed, a single pink thong, a tearful doll, a broken gun, a condom; the vestiges of vacations past and the echo of laughter.
Each artefact was photographed in forensic detail using a large format camera and a pure white background. Each becomes a relic with a story for us to imagine. As the project developed the narratives began to resonate and entwine, with the final exhibition drawing many threads of connection across a matrix of images.
But if these images tell a story of other lives and other places, they also tell the tale familiar to all parents, of the world seen afresh through a child’s eyes.
Narelle Autio’s ‘The Summer of Us’ is showing at the Gold Coast City Gallery in Surfer’s Paradise, Queensland until 3 February 2013. More information here.
Images (from the top):
Composite image of gloves and driftwood © Narelle Autio
Composite showing a matrix of images from ‘The Summer of Us’ © Narelle Autio