Photography: Of Time and Tides

By Maureen Korp
Maureen Korp
Maureen Korp
October 28, 2015 Updated: November 3, 2015

Currently on view at Exposure Gallery in Ottawa is a solo exhibition by photographer Christine Fitzgerald. Titled “Erosion,” and curated by John Hewett Hallum, the exhibition presents a suite of 13 photographs, each one a view of sky, water, and shoreline.

For the most part, the photographs are images of quietude. We do not know if the tide is coming in or going out. The sea is bottomless. There is no way to tell time of day, nor season of the year. The skies are cloudless or heavily overcast. The shoreline is empty of all but colour, light, and line. Where is this land?

The scenes Fitzgerald photographed, using long exposures, are all part of a ruined bit of Florida shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico. When she set up her camera, there were, of course, noisy waves coming in the water and screeching gulls in the air. Birds, clouds, and waves, however, are all movements of light specific to a fraction of time. In photography, that specificity is erased with the use of long exposures. As Fitzgerald looked through the camera’s viewfinder, she searched for something else.

In the photographs, imperfect rows of dark shapes stand in the water. Often they are centred in the composition, extending from the bottom of the frame out into the middle of the scene, as we see in “Dock No. 1, Gulf of Mexico” and “Dock No. 5, Gulf of Mexico.” These imperfect rows are remnants of wooden piers eroded in the sea over time. Each pier was built by human hands to be functional and purposeful. Each has failed its builder. The waves of the sea proved stronger.

“Dock No. 13, Gulf of Mexico” has a particularly haunting sequence of piers angled from left to right across the picture plane. Far away, the horizon line is aglow with light. In this scene, the colours of sea and sky are soft and tonal. Our thoughts drift. Was there an epic tale told here?

Whatever the hour, wherever the shoreline, again and again, the ocean’s waves come into land, and go back again. Sometimes water levels are high, sometimes not. Twice a month, when the sun and moon are at right angles to the earth, neap tides occur. Watching the shoreline, we cannot see any of these angles of push-and-pull; we see only the waters falling and rising, coming and going. Counting waves is a task without end.

In Fitzgerald’s photographs, however, one measure of time is visible—erosion.

“Erosion” by Ottawa photographer Christine Fitzgerald is on view at Exposure Gallery, 1255 Wellington Street, until Nov. 3. The Gallery is on the second floor of Thyme&Again. Exposure Gallery presents the work of photo-based artists associated with the School of Photographic Arts: Ottawa.

Maureen Korp, PhD, is an independent scholar, curator, and writer who lives in Ottawa. Author of many publications, she has lectured in Asia, Europe, and North America on the histories of art and religions. Email:

Maureen Korp