Rachael Wright’s seaside series captures the “beauty of humanity when we think nobody is looking”
The photographer turns her lens onto a beach wall in New Hampshire – a frequented summer destination that appears in every image.
- Olivia Hingley
- 29 June 2023
In the early days of the pandemic, the photographer Rachael Wright found herself burnt out and disillusioned. The slowing down of life combined with a lack of commissions due to lockdowns pushed Rachael to question what she wanted to do with her life, and whether she wanted to be a photographer anymore. A personal project was the furthest thing from her mind.
But, after a break and some reflection, Rachael found herself once more itching to pick up the camera. “I think I had to go back to the beginning and make pictures for the sake of making pictures again, to find out I actually wanted to photograph and separate it from the need to have it put a roof over my head,” Rachael says. It was from this intention that Rachael’s warm, evocative and sun-soaked series The Wall arose.
Rachael had moved to New Hampshire from her Los Angeles home to be closer to her partner’s parents at the beginning of the pandemic. During the first winter months spent in the state, she regularly drove past the state's seawall, perceiving it as little more than an “eyesore” and “perfunctory every-expense-spared, government-funded necessity keeping the Atlantic at bay”.
Yet as the weather began to change and summer approached, Rachael found her perception of the wall changing. “There’s only really a beach there at low tide, so for much of the day the waves are licking right up against the base of the concave side of the wall,” she says. “So the tide governed the ebb and flow of people too. The higher the tide, the busier the wall.” From a desolate eyesore in winter, the wall had transformed into a hive of activity.
For Rachael, the wall also became symbolic of the socio-economic make-up of New Hampshire. “The area is flanked by wealthy enclaves and private beaches with permitted or very limited parking to deter non-locals. Few things get me as riled up as rich people ‘owning’ the coast, and people who can’t afford the property prices being excluded,” Rachael says. However, the wall was a space that felt “welcoming”. Rachael continues: “There is more depth and richness in the community who call it theirs, simply by being a more democratic place. It may not be the prettiest spot on this stretch of coastline, but it’s for everyone. Rather than a barrier, The Wall soon became my solace.”
Soon, Rachael began to photograph the wall. Off the back, she decided to keep things simple, maintaining a 85mm focal length and unfiltered, ambient lighting. “The only ‘rule’ was the wall itself,’ Rachael says. “It had to inform each picture, even if it wasn’t physically present in the frame. Then it was like a meditation – I just walked and noticed.” On top of this, she tried hard not to involve herself and talk to her subjects. “I sort of moved through like a ghost, not wanting to disturb the natural order of things.”
It was this approach that allowed Rachael to lens in on what she describes as “unremarkable, quietly human moments”. This, combined with the cross section of society that Rachael captures at the wall, come together to create something so special. Outlining a few of her favourite images from the series, Rachael lands on one of an elderly woman staring out into sea – a common occurrence along the wall.
Rachael views the image as one that demonstrates the pull of the sea. “The sea is such a mysterious, powerful draw and the more I wonder why people stand and stare at it, the more possibilities I come up with.” Other moments that stand out for Rachael are moments of joy – like the image of Buddhists monks jumping into the waves; “a reminder that we all have an inner child who longs to come out to play.”
Now, Rachael has moved away from New Hampshire. But while 3,000 miles away, she’s discovered a surf webcam that allows her to look upon the wall – see the tide, the weather, the people – and still feel a connection. “The Wall is a very simple project. There are no subtexts, no hidden narratives. It’s a celebration of people, of nature, of community, of life,” the photographer ends. “I wanted to highlight the beauty of humanity when we think nobody is looking.”
GalleryRachael Wright: The Wall (Copyright © Rachael Wright 2023)
Rachael Wright: The Wall (Copyright © Rachael Wright 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.