A community-led exhibition asking photographers to reflect on their relationship with our coastal waters, seeks to raise funds for a charity rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean
For Ruth Medjber, the Poolbeg chimneys mean the world. The 200m candy-striped stacks in Dublin Bay feature prominently in her Instagram feed, and when she thinks of a sea vista that fills her with happiness, the now disused red-and-white twins are always there.
“They’re my home from home,” the renowned Dublin photographer says. “I used to live in London, and when I’d get the ferry home and first see those lads, my heart would be in my mouth. I’d be so excited.”
Medjber is mulling over what the sea means to her, and she is hoping to inspire others to do likewise. Together with Karen Cowley, of the Choice Music Prize-nominated Bray band Wyvern Lingo, she is curating a charity exhibition, Surrounded By Sea, and is calling on amateur and professional photographers alike to submit a photograph that best captures all that’s special about our coastal waters.
Hundreds have already been received — including photos taken by celebrities such as musician Hozier, model Thalia Heffernan and comedian PJ Gallagher — and the best will be picked for the exhibition that takes place in Dublin next month.
Proceeds from Surrounded by Sea will go to Refugee Rescue, a Northern Irish charity founded in 2015 by Joby Fox and Jude Bennett. “They do amazing rescue work in the Mediterranean,” Cowley says.
“The search-and-rescue community in the Mediterranean is made up of so many international volunteers, and a lot of them are Irish. And yet, oddly, it doesn’t get much attention in the media here. Maybe it’s because of our physical distance from the Mediterranean, but I think if people knew the extent of what was happening there, they would be completely outraged.”
It is estimated that, on average, between five and six refugees lose their life trying to cross the Mediterranean every day. “We want to raise awareness, and the exhibition is a small way of doing that,” Cowley says.
The two women have known each other for years. “I’m a big fan of her band,” Medjber says, “and I always try to haunt her and take photographs of her. And this year, during festival season, I asked her how I could be involved in Refugee Rescue because I think what they do is amazing.”
Raising funds and awareness was key for Medjber and Cowley. An exhibition of photographs soon took form. “The obvious thing is that me as a photographer goes away and takes portraits, but that only has a certain amount of reach,” Medjber says. “But this should be community-led. It should involve a lot of people. So I decided to step back as a photographer and be a curator instead, and the two of us can work together on a huge exhibition.”
The idea of photographs of the sea came early, not just because, for many refugees, the sea — primarily the Mediterranean — offers transit to what they hope will be a better life, but because, as an island nation, we Irish have a special relationship with it.
“For me,” Cowley says, “the sea captures the joy and sorrow of life combined. I love swimming in it, but I’ve always been aware of its dangers.”
Photographs can be submitted to Surrounded by Sea up to November 29. Entries cost €10 and proceeds will go to Refugee Rescue. The exhibition will be held at the Dean Art Space, Dublin 2, from December 10-12.
“Over the past year or so, I’ve spent more time in the sea with friends. For me, it’s become a place of community, marking the beginning or end of the day, and feeling grateful.”
“The sea, to me, means freedom, an openness, a great space to be at peace, the sea air, the breeze, the stillness, the calm and the storm, the intrigue of the unknown and the adventure and freedom it brings.”
“The sea gives me the feeling of familiarity that I can tap into anywhere in the world. I use it to soothe my anxious mind when I travel. I let the sound wash over my noisy thoughts and drown out the sounds of a blustering world and recentre me with its infinite rhythm. I focus my eyes on the horizon and blissfully zone out. It’s meditation, nostalgia, comfort and peace. It is my home from home.”
“For me, the sea brings peace and a sense of calm. I’ve always loved the idea that the tide comes and goes, the constant ebb and flow acting as a reminder of mother nature’s strength and softness. Everything from the sound of the waves to the feel of the sand under foot. Exploring rock pools, finding hidden treasures in the form of sparkling stones and mostly shattered shells, and looking out in the hopes of spotting a wild seal or dolphin. I have such fond memories of walking the beach as a child. Seasons never mattered; we always made it work. And now that I’m older, nothing brings me joy like taking my two dogs to the beach and watching their eyes light up, the sights and smells even more vivid for them.”
“[This is taken from] the edge of my granny’s graveyard. I adore that place. It’s called Abbey Island and is in Derrynane. The sea reminds me of family and childhood. It was where our family from all over Ireland and England would meet in the summer. I remember sunshine, laughter, being allowed to eat all the penny sweets we could handle ’cause the adults were having too much fun to pay attention to us.”
“Over the last few years, the sea has become a form of therapy for me. It’s got a healing quality and it demands you embrace the present moment when you enter it. Some people call it a shock to the system. I call it a reset of the system.”
The Happy Pear
“The sea gives us hope. It is ever-changing and has become a central part of our daily lives. We have met so many wonderful friends through swimming in the sea at sunrise. As a friend once said: ‘We don’t always like the person going into the sea, but always like the person getting out.’”