For its size, New Zealand has one of the longest coastlines in the world, and no part of the country is much more than a hundred kilometres from the sea. The water that surrounds us is mostly equable in temperature, bidding us to come and enjoy, especially during the heat of summer.
And enjoy it we do, swimming, snorkelling, surfing, sunbathing, picnicking and the rest. As visitors to our shores regularly complained until a few years ago, over the Christmas holidays the entire country closed down and most of its population was to be found at the beach.
Ah, the beach! Place of memory and anticipation, where we meet the ocean, that great other which covers two-thirds of the globe. At the beach the ocean is shallow—playful more often than predatory, therapeutic rather than threatening. We mince in, step by deeper step, shrieking as the cold nips at our legs. Beneath our soles is a terra incognita of sand, shell and rock winnowed smooth by the swirl of the sea.
Some of us comb the sand for treasures, or dig for kai. Others roar out across the water in boats. Teens strut and pose, burning while being cool. Children dig, bury or build. Sand is in their hair, their mouths, their togs. It is the universal ingredient in our sandwiches. Mothers keep a watchful eye on their brood, and try to sleep or read. Men cook, watch girls, dream of bigger boats.
All this activity has become a documentary subject for Auckland photographer Jocelyn Carlin. Over the past four years she has roamed the country—even to the extent of visiting the Kermadecs and Campbell Island—seeking images which capture the beach’s human face.
Lately, that face has been changing. Says Carlin: “New Zealand, as a colonised nation, took on the values and traditions of the British. Now the strong new identity is that of a Pacific island nation. Maori assert and renegotiate their priorities, and immigrants and refugees find their place here along with seventh-and eighth-generation Europeans. Perhaps nowhere is this cultural mix more openly apparent than at the beach.”
The fruit of Carlin’s travels has been published by David Bateman. Called simply Beach, it is a pictorial celebration of a national institution.