Sophie Calle ‘Voir la Mer’

Sophie Calle’s ‘Voir la Mer’ or ‘Seeing the Sea’ is published as a book and fourteen 5 minute videos in collaboration with Caroline Champetier.

The work of the two artists invites the viewer to experience seeing the sea for the first time through Istanbul’s residence who’ve never seen the sea. The videos capture each person from behind viewing the sea of all various ages. After several minutes they turn to face the camera and their raw emotions are seen.

The anonymous figures during the first portion of the videos set the scene. Visually the compositional technique relates to the romantic ‘Ruckenfigur’ used by artists throughout history, a visual method of contemplation and a romantic experience of a landscape. After the person turns around the composition switches from the landscape as the frame filler, to the person, slowly zooming in to their face and blurring the background, capturing their emotions in detail. Calle details “When an old man or woman has never seen the sea, there is an element of drama to this”.

The addition of audio of the sea waves crashing into the beach provides another sensory attachment for the viewer to grasp the experience. Together with the cinematic visuals it creates an effective and emotional encounter with nature, one that connects us with the subject through their emotion.

Using multiple projections fills the gallery space with light and provides an individual experience of each individual subject. Only running one video on each projection, it seems important to keep it as such to show the diversity of the people and show an individual experience. Viewing the scene through the Ruckenfigur places us in the scene, using the anonymous subject as an anchor for the landscape. Only once the person turns to face the camera does our interpretation of the scene transform, reading their individual emotions and creating a link between them and the viewer.

Relating to my practice I’ve thought about Ruckenfigur and how it inspires potential photos I could create. Keeping the person anonymous would be important as to provide some form of anchor for the viewer to encounter the environment with. With my work it is more important to have the viewer experience the scene with their own thoughts rather than reading the person. Reason for that being I want nature to share the emotion of the scene, just like the first half of Champetier’s videos.



References: 2015. Watch People Seeing The Ocean For The First Time. “When an old man or woman has never seen the sea, there is an element of drama to this” [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 17 July 2020].

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