Treasure Hunting at the Edge of the Ocean By Felicity Somerset

1-somerset-qualicum-bayI have always been intrigued by seashores, from my earliest memories of English, Irish, Welsh and European beaches to later experiences of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans bordering Canada, the U.S. and Central and South America. My preference is for shorelines that are somewhat remote – certainly not highly populated by sunbathers and swimmers.

Walking along the shoreline, I am fascinated by the immensity of the sea, the sound of the waves, the different moods created by sea mists, storms, sunrises and sunsets, and the way the sea wraps along the edges of the land. We are tiny figures against the enormous backdrop of sky and sea, and are there only as a brief moment in time. I love the distinctive smells of the ocean, briny, sea-weedy and fishy. I hear the raucous calls of the seabirds, feel the sand between my toes, and the slipperiness of the rocks. Being by the ocean is a very sensuous experience!

And for me always there is this compulsion to seek out the treasures in the inter-tidal zones, and to capture these with my camera. What draws my attention is the treasure hunting along the shore, the stones and pebbles, the shells, the seaweeds, the flotsam and jetsam thrown up by the waves, tree branches, and foliage. And then there are the marks left in the wet sand by sea creatures, crabs, birds, other animals and even humans. Treasure hunting is a strong human inclination: the desire to hold, to keep and revisit. Photography provides a way to preserve that moment, and to capture a nostalgia about the experience.

My real interest in in the close up and sometimes abstract views of the shoreline – the inter-tidal zone. I am looking for the amazing organic compositions that are created naturally. I never arrange the compositions, but finding the treasure, I walk around it from every angle until I get what I want. It is indeed the art of seeing. The quality of light creates texture and shadow, and water can also add a further dimension to the composition. This environment is my inspiration.

Some of the treasure hunting is serendipitous – an unexpected find that may set me off on a whole new area of photographic exploration. But mostly my treasure hunting is a deliberate and considered approach to making an image with the idea of developing bodies of work on the treasures that I find. It is an immersive process – slow, thoughtful and time-consuming.

My images explore the ideas of permanence, transience, transformation and the interaction between water and light


4-somerset-rock-abstractOne would think that rocks and rocky surfaces would be more permanent. But this would be misleading. There is one shoreline, on the Pacific Ocean, in a remote area of southern Costa Rica that I have been photographing for ten years. In the past, I have composed an image on the rocks but have not been happy with it technically for a variety of reasons. When I go back to the same collection of rocks, I can’t recreate the image. Small stones wash in and out of the crevices of the rocks, water pools in different ways, or sand scours the surface, and the light is different: the image has become transient.


11-somerset-leaf-maskSome images are, of course, completely transient: they remain only between the tides. These images become special because they last for such a short time, and can only be captured and remembered through the photograph or other art form, e.g. sketching. These are probably my favourite images because they are so fleeting and cannot ever be replicated.


12-somerset-co-dependencies-12The Co-dependencies series is a little different. I was attracted to these shells because of their broken, sculptural shapes, and the surface textures and I knew that I wanted to photograph them. In this case, I removed them from their shoreline context and brought them home. After some experimentation, I decided to place them on a glass or mirrored surface to create a double image: a relationship of co-dependency. These were photographed in natural light, and have not been manipulated in any way. So, I have transformed each shell into a different and more complex image.

Light and water

17-somerset-seaweed-tofinoAnd finally, photography is all about light and on the shoreline, the water intensifies the impact of the light. The water provides highlights, a sense of movement and saturated colours.

My collection of images is a visual tribute to the ocean – expressing a nostalgia for the beauty of what I have seen and experienced, and the images are also a promise to myself to return and to continue to explore the edge of the ocean.

Felicity Somerset: Fine Art Photography

Based in Toronto, I am a fine art photographer. My photographic subjects are often drawn from landscape and nature in both Canadian and international locations.

dj8_5854-felicity-webI am also inspired by the impact of time and weather on wooden and metal surfaces, and the play of light on contemporary architecture. My focus in on the intimate and often abstracted image that captures the essence and intricacies of rural and urban landscapes.

My photography is exhibited regularly in both solo and group shows in galleries and public spaces throughout Ontario, and my work is in private collections in Canada, the U.S., England, France, Israel, Costa Rica and the Cayman Islands. I am a member of the Arts and Letters Club, Toronto, the F8 Photography Collective, the Artists’ Network, Toronto and the Canadian Association for Photographic Art.