The series “La plage” came to me naturally. I live in Agay (Var) facing the sea. It’s the sea that catches my eye as soon as I wake up. Between us, there is the beach. I see the beach every day, but I rarely visit it. I don’t know what the reason was, but suddenly I felt the urge to look at it. For one summer, it became a fantastic territory of observation.
First, there was the observation phase. I had to understand how it functions. The habits there are highly codified. It is, in a way, a city without buildings, a space to share; a dense space with unspoken rules that generally remains joyful and conflict-free.
The appropriation of the beach is different depending on whether you are alone, as a couple, with family, or with friends, and depending on the time of arrival: you position yourself differently according to the density of the place. Upon arrival at the beach, the installation of the towel comes into question. Some people will delineate a real living space, while others won’t. The early riser chooses the best spot and creates their space. We then witness the creation of a temporary property. Every new neighbor must respect a certain distance to settle in. This non-building zone decreases as the number of daily inhabitants increases. The ownership area remains the towel or the space delimited by a group of towels. And even when there is practically no available space left, everyone must be able to access the sea and leave the beach.
At first glance, we are all equal at the beach… but even in swimsuits, differences persist: the population is not the same depending on the chosen beach: the dressed or rather undressed won’t be the same – branded swimsuits, beach bags… or none; sandwiches or restaurants; tabloids or literature; towels or sunbeds…
Likewise, the beach remains a place for self-staging: we only show what we want to show – there is what we want people to see and what we want to hide; the tanning enthusiasts and those who enjoy but still pay attention because “the sun is dangerous,” those who exhibit their latest breast implants, those who show off their muscles and the self-conscious who try to hide… Finally, there are those without any inhibitions… The hours of attendance are also markers of differences. Order and disorder coexist without conflicts.
There are numerous other rules, but my intention lies elsewhere: it is a reflection on the appropriation of space. I wanted to delve into the intimacy of the beach, rediscover the rhythms, colors, order (or disorder), materials, textures, patterns, or improbable compositions. All bathed in the light and sharp shadows of the French Riviera coast. So, throughout the summer of 2016, I photographed the beaches according to a simple but precise protocol: Camera (Hasselblad 500C) – a single lens (Zeiss 150 mm) / The capture had to be quick to maintain objectivity and avoid appearing intrusive / Humans were prohibited / Yet, we enter the intimacy of each individual. Close-ups, details, wider shots: it’s an attempt to show how the space is organized. The photographs were taken on several beaches and at all times of the day: Bringing together Cannes, Agay, Fréjus, Saint-Tropez as a whole provides a global vision: the beaches become The Beach because while each photo must exist by and for itself, they must also be part of a series; it is the variety that gives meaning to this project.
A moment of carefree joy in a gloomy period. We are simply there to have a good time, together. My ideal beach.
© Olivier Felix Isselin Photographies.