Maybe there are sailors who don’t like the sea. Actually, I’m fairly sure there are sailors-even some who profess to love the sport-that are ambivalent or worse when it comes to the field of play. I’m not among this crowd. I’m continually fascinated by all bodies of water, from their coastlines to their clarity-or lack thereof-from their fury when whipped by a stiff breeze to their mirror-like repose when the wind is still.
All this puts me right in the middle of the target audience for Pierre Borland’s coffee table tomb The Sea.
Borland, who was previously the director of photography within the French Ministry of Culture, has assembled 300 photographs dating from the dawn of the artform in the mid 1800s to the present day. The title is slightly misleading. The book isn’t only about the sea, though there are more than a few images consisting almost entirely of water. The subhead-An Anthology of Maritime Photography Since 1843-is more accurate. The collection chronicles the human relationship with the ocean as much as anything, limited only by the fact that mankind’s relationship with the sea is a lot older than that with celluloid.
If you’re looking for images of racing yachts, you’ll find a few. None are better than an excellent image from onboard Reliance, Charlie Barr at the helm, his steely gazed fixed forward. But I wouldn’t buy it for those images alone.
What I found most fascinating about the collection is how much the human boundary with the sea-primarily the coastline, but also the vessels on which we sail-has evolved over the past 160 years. In the 1800s the business aspect of the sea controlled the coastline of any harbor or city. The ships were equally utilitarian.
Now, most waterfront real estate is too valuable for its aesthetics to be used for ship yards and fishing docks. The change is striking. Yet at the same time, when one looks toward the sea, from the rail of a seaside hotel balcony or hung over the lifelines of a racing yacht, it looks just like it always has, just the same as it has for every person who’s looked out on the sea since someone first noticed it was there.
The Sea: An Anthology of Maritime Photography Since 1843, edited by Pierre Borland, is 11 by 10.5 inches, with 300 pages of black-and-white and color illustrations. It comes with its own slipcase and retails for $75. It is scheduled for release in December. For more information check your local bookstore, or visit