This exhibition brings together works spanning fifteen years of Inggs’ career, including important black and white photographs and new colour photographs on view in London for the first time.
The new colour photographs focus on the sea surrounding Cape Town, where Inggs has been an avid surfer for fifty years. His work examines his love for the sea but also a fear of the environmental impact humans are having on the oceans. Inggs says: “In its myriad states of movement and stillness, the sea is a timeless metaphor for human emotions and psychological states… But, for how long will this metaphor last? Not because we are changing, but because we are changing the sea.” This uneasiness can be felt in Saltwater I, II, and III where Inggs places himself—and therefore the viewer—in among the waves, creating the impression of being engulfed by water. The soft focus of the camera plays against the violence of the tumultuous seas.
Inggs’ largescale black and white photographs, for which he is best known, also confront the divide between delicacy and power. These works are hand-coated with silver gelatin emulsion onto cotton rag paper. The soft tactile nature of the water colour paper acts as a trompe l’oeil, blurring the boundaries between photography, drawing, and printmaking. Works such as Leaf and Shears feature isolated objects against a flattened background. By eliminating three-dimensional space behind the subject matter, the seemingly quotidian objects are intensified.
Stephen Inggs speaks of his still life works as a way of exploring the history of objects, their “cultural residue and meaning.” His new photographs can be understood in the same way, where the sea in Cape Town is a regular part of daily life, steeped in a profound cultural history and, at the same time, part of an unknown global future impacted by climate change.