Photographer Anna Beeke’s series At Sea is an ongoing exploration of American cruise culture. “The once romantic notion of travelling the ocean to distant lands has become an accessible and affordable way to vacation, with more and more people taking to the seas each year,” says Anna. “Cruising is the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry worldwide – this project takes a lighthearted look at what it is like to be a passenger on board these floating hotels and the places to which they take us.”
Cruise ships became Anna’s inspiration after thinking of the various ways available to access the ocean, though she’d never had the urge to go on a cruse previously. Anna simply bought a ticket and jumped aboard cruise life for the series: “I am both participant and observer in the series. The images are primarily documentary – street photography on the high seas,” explains Anna. “I was looking for many things, specifically contrasts. The juxtaposition of the industry’s simultaneous focus on both relaxation and overstimulation. The disparity between the vast commercial enterprises aboard the ships and the natural beauty of the places they ferry us to.”
While photographing, Anna also contemplated the practice of travelling for days to a new country and to simply spend around eight hours there, posing questions to herself like, “How much can you understand a culture, or even a landscape, in that short time?” and “How much of what you see is ‘real?’” Armed with these considerations, for her final images Anna tried to capture “beautiful moments that conveyed a sense of place, and strange moments that are both humorous and humane, without judgement”.
To ground the series, Anna has included the coordinates of each location. “On deck, in between ports, with water from here to the horizon in every direction and everything taken care of for you, the importance of your real location slips away. With endless entertainment, it’s easy enough at times to forget you are even at sea. Even ashore, the fact that you are in an actual country is often hardly relevant to your experience,” explains the photographer. “The coordinates are a foil to this fantasy, as well as an homage to the seafaring life and to the impressive crew working behind the scenes who know the ship’s exact location at all times as they navigate very real natural elements.”
Anna’s background is in photojournalism and fine art photography, meaning the series is a pleasing combination of the two approaches, with portraits, still lifes and landscape shots painting a vivid picture of cruise ship life. The interplay of colours and textures also elevates the series, with cool, turquoise seas and golden sands juxtaposing with the lurid interiors of the cruise ship and the garish shirts of the passengers. “I am very much a scavenger – I rarely set things up, but I’m always on the lookout for beautiful and odd moments,” Anna says of her style. “I’m trying to convey a feeling more than an idea – the feeling of the sun on your face, the sea breeze in your hair, and a piña colada in your hand. Basically, the buoyancy of carefree vacation days, and the underlying strangeness of mass tourism. Of course I have my own opinions about the cruise industry and that probably seeps through a bit in the images, but this project isn’t meant to be didactic, just a look at one iteration of the American Dream.”