In the spring of 2019, the French Embassy in Australia invited the French photographer Paul Rousteau to spend 12 days living and making artwork on a sailing boat in the Coral Sea. This atypical artist residency turned Rousteau into an active crew member of the boat, working to keep it on course, and sometimes maneuvering it through the night. In a recent email to Hyperallergic, Rousteau reflected that “Living at sea, surrounded by the elements, without internet, without material comfort, night and day, was a strong and unforgettable experience.”

At first, Rousteau took daily photographs of the sea with his camera. But he quickly found that the process fell short in capturing the vividness of the light, water, and air that surrounded him. “The camera breaks up and locks up reality,” Rousteau said. “So I started to modify my camera. I created optical illusions, chromatic aberrations, [and] false weather mirages.” Rousteau’s visual experiments from his voyage off the coast of Australia come together in Seascapes (Loose Joints Publishing, 2021), a collection of 62 brightly colored, quasi-abstract images that are each titled after real seas and bays around the globe. A dynamic mixture of collaged, constructed, and digitally manipulated photographic techniques, Rousteau’s book is a vibrant example of the mysterious visions and optical openness that vast landscapes can inspire.

Paul Rousteau, “Yatsushiro Sea,” from Seascapes

In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit writes that “Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in.” Blues certainly appear across Seascapes, but Rousteau also depicts the ocean and sky in otherworldly pea greens, rusty oranges, and electric magentas. His simplified, soft focus forms take on a powdery, pastel-like quality that, despite the pages’ smooth finish, feels far removed from traditional photography. In other pictures, Rousteau overlaps photos of clouds and water from various places and times of day, presenting a diaphanous, layered vista that feels more like a memory.

This play with color and sharpness appears throughout Rousteau’s oeuvre, including his commercial work. But here, his visual effects evoke the dreamy, melancholy feeling we often get when looking out at the ocean. The luminous, curious pictures in Seascapes push our understanding of what the sea looks like, leaving room to reevaluate and re-remember that place. “The sea is a plunge into the contemplative void of the landscape,” Rousteau wrote by email. But thanks to his time navigating the waters, he now has a different view of that void. “After a few days, a change takes place: this great emptiness becomes a great fullness.”

Paul Rousteau, “Coral Sea,” from Seascapes
Paul Rousteau, “Ross Sea,” from Seascapes
Paul Rousteau, “Norwegian Sea,” from Seascapes
Paul Rousteau, “Irminger Sea,” from Seascapes
Paul Rousteau, “Lincoln Sea,” from Seascapes

Seascapes by Paul Rousteau is available online through Loose Joints Publishing.

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Lauren Moya Ford

Lauren Moya Ford is a writer and artist. Her writing has appeared in Apollo, Artsy, Atlas Obscura, Flash Art, Frieze, Glasstire, Mousse Magazine, and other publications.