Nord Sea

©2010 Phillip Nesmith

The image above is a triptych comprised of three 7×5 wet collodion ambrotypes of the tanker Nord Sea made in June during my exploration of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the blow-out and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig.  I have been away from south Louisiana for a month now, yet I have only been home for about two weeks because of other travel, and I am still working through the images that I made there and my feelings about the experience.

Experience is often a major component of much of my work.  I find that to make work about an event, I must go and become a part of it, to experience it on my own.  Somehow I feel that to be able to truly have input to a discussion that one must know what they are talking about. Second had knowledge via news anchors just does not cut it.  What better way to know about something than living part of it.  Unfortunately for me, much of the experience that I lived is only partially shown in my images.  The images are just a small piece of my overall work, the visible part.  The rest I still wonder how best to share.  Luckily, evidence of my personal physical and emotional struggle can be found on many of the plates.  Evidence such as finger prints, scraps, fibers and dirt blown on the hot wind, and stains from sweat dripping onto the plate can be seen.  These things are physical markers symbolic of many aspects of what I experienced, such as the atmospheric and living conditions (tent camping for the most part), and my emotional reaction to the sight of oil in the water, the smell of petroleum on the wind, and the look in the eyes of people out of work.

For this project, I now see that I really needed someone documenting what I was doing, seeing, and living in south Louisiana.  The creation of the images that will make up the exhibition Flow in Washington D.C. could have been a performance work, and in the few instances when I had a couple of onlookers it truly was.  The performance to record the image above took place on the bank of the Mississippi River, just north of Venice La.  I had about 45 minutes to set up my darkbox, chemicals, and camera, plus prepare, expose and process the three plates before the ship pulled anchor and left.  I was told by a man fishing with his young kids on the bank that the pilot had just arrive aboard and that the ship would be leaving soon.  I had basically driven over 100 miles from my main area of work for this image and had one opportunity.  I don’t know what my frenzied activity looked like to the family hunkered down in the weeds, but I do know that they had never before seen anything like what I was doing.  Lab ware, chemicals, a strange box with a dark drape hanging out the back of the SUV, a large tripod placed as high up on the levee as possible, and a skinny sunburned guy with gloves and an apron running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off.

As I removed the third plate from the camera and walk down the slope of the levee to the darkbox, the anchors were pulled up, and before long the ship began to drift down stream. Processing the last plate, and looking at the previous two side by side, I watched the ship slip away with the dirty water.  The man, loaded up his kids in their pickup truck and slowly pulled by me, the kid’s mouths agape and their father giving me a nod.  Rumbling, like the massive ship, they too slipped away down the levee and out of sight.  With about 30 minutes of good light left before the approach of darkness I slowly began to take everything apart.

One day, one opportunity, and one image.

See plates from my expedition to south Louisiana at Irvine Contemporary in Washington D.C. during the solo exhibition Flow.


~ by Phil Nesmith on August 2, 2010.

2 Responses to “Nord Sea”

  1. […] on your time, but when you are dealing with subjects that may not be at the location long, like the Nord Sea for example, I found that speed (if you can use that word with wet collodion photography) was very […]

  2. […] image above was made with my cell phone as I unpacked to work the Nord Sea.  The time draws near when the work made in June will be out in the world.  Five days remain […]

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