Seas Without a Shore

Photographs and text by Chris Anthony
Hardcover, 10 x 12.25 inches, 114 pages, 97 color illustrations
Self-published, 2013

Reviewed by Lauren Greenwald

Issue 52

Chris Anthony’s Seas Without a Shore brings close to 100 photographs together in one volume, a broad collection of imagery held together by a suggestion. Inspired in part by the writing of Edgar Allan Poe, the title is taken from Poe’s Dream-Land, with following stanza included in the book:

Bottomless vales and boundless floods,
And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,
With forms that no man can discover
For the dews that drip all over,
Mountains toppling evermore
Into seas without a shore

Here, there is a sense of foreboding and mystery, suggesting the helplessness and isolation of the human condition in the face of a world that is an unknowable entity.

The book itself is an object of extremely high quality, substantial in feel and appearance. It’s worth noting that the production was funded via Kickstarter. In recent years, the options available to photographers for publishing have exploded, from print-on-demand services like Blurb and MagCloud to working with commercial printers through printing brokers to create larger editions. Now, with the proliferation of online funding platforms, artists have even more ways to implement their vision, as well as compressing the timeline required to create a book. Chris Anthony’s successful Kickstarter campaign, launched in September 2012, raised over $20,000 in a month, and the first printing of the book, including both a standard cover and a limited clothbound edition, was completed by early 2013. This is a great success story for self-publishing and an avenue many photographers may want to consider for future projects.

The photographs for this book were made with large format cameras and 150 year-old lenses, giving them a dreamy, otherworldly feel, and the majority of the images are wet plate collodion (tintypes), while the rest were shot on color film. The reproductions are fantastic, printed on heavy, coated paper, and the tintypes are presented at roughly twice their original size, enabling the viewer to pore over every detail and gorgeous imperfection. A loose collection of portraits, still lifes, and seascapes, the sequence of images begins with close-ups of crudely fabricated masks, an apparent homage to Sally Mann’s frame-filling faces that is emphasized later in the book by several blurred and atmospheric human visages. Next come tableaux populated with oddly costumed characters and sinister props, followed by a striking collection of animal skulls and specimens, with a special emphasis on seahorses, or hippocampi. The closing seascapes, in muted color, depict more of the aforementioned figures, standing in the surf of an unidentifiable shore. The images are periodically punctuated with lines from Poe’s and other writers’ works, eliciting a somber, indistinct mood rather than creating a definite framework.

The tintypes are wonderful images, but it’s hard not to like anything wet plate; the flaws and the inherent physicality are what make them so seductive. However, the 20-odd images of seahorses are the standouts; they move beyond mere process and draw the viewer in with their repetition and careful attention, vaguely reminiscent of scientific illustrations. Anthony experiments with orientation and scale, transforming his tiny subjects, so in one case a glaring eye looms out of the murk, the creature seemingly ready to envelop the viewer, and in another an impossibly miniscule specimen is dwarfed by an enormous leaf. The other images of animal remains – various rodents and bats and insects - are compelling as well, as characters more than objects or relics, and an appropriately haunting lead-in to the hippocampi.

Some of the figurative works are particularly evocative, more so when the figures are placed in an incongruous urban environment, heightening the sense of the uncanny. In one image, a lone, shadowy form clasps a brick wall and creeps menacingly around a corner, while another depicts a motley group of characters loitering in a downtown alley, framed by hazy buildings and fire escapes, strongly reminiscent of Jacob Riis’ famous image Bandits’ Roost. The seascapes hint at a larger narrative, and are cinematic in their grand presentation and execution, but despite the apparent reappearance of certain costumes (or characters) from the preceding scenes, they seem stylistically and conceptually distant.

While the thematic looseness of the book does seem intentional, the content reads more as three separate bodies of work. Apart from the scattered lines of verse throughout, there is little additional information provided for the viewer. The opening essay is autobiographical and familiar in tone, but doesn’t give the reader much more than the genesis of the title and a brief glimpse into the artist’s intent.

Ultimately, this book functions as a big, beautiful portfolio of the artist’s work. At its best, it allows the viewer the freedom to get lost in the cascade of imagery, while at times it can seem disjointed and deserving of a more considered edit, as the sheer volume and range of images can be overwhelming. Nonetheless, this is an impressive collection of images, and a beautifully printed and bound volume that is a strong calling card for the artist, and one many will enjoy.

Buy the book here

See the Kickstarter page here

Lauren Greenwald lives in Las Cruces, NM and is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Photography at NMSU.
To learn more about Lauren, please visit her website.