New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 18 May 16 to 22, 2012

The Process of Decay
Michael Collins
Pictures from the Hoo Peninsula
Ed Barnas
Hans Egede No. 3 by Michael Collins. Source:
Michael Collins, "Hans Egede No. 3"

Although the name sounds exotic, the Hoo Penninsula is actually in England. A spit of land separating the estuaries of the Thames and the Medway, it consists of sand and clay hills surrounded by marshland. Charles Dickens drew heavily on the atmosphere and isolation of the area for the beginning scenes of Great Expectations (including Pip’s fateful encounter with Magwitch,) also referring to its villages in other works as well. While some of the swamps have been drained, the area still includes wetlands among the protected areas and nature preserves.

It is to these marshes that Michael Collins came to photograph the moldering remains of wooden ships and barges. Beached and abandoned, these vessels are slowly rotting away, being absorbed into the mud among the marsh grass and rotting jetty pilings. Although a walking guide to the area features bright sunny landscapes, Collins has chosen to photograph these skeletal remains under an overcast sky as gray as the muck below. The colors are subdued: the greens, grays, and browns of decomposition.

While a number of these wrecks were shot from a distance, Collins has put his feet in the mud and approached others, exploring their bones more closely. In these images he uncovers some of their original grandeur: the sensual curves of their tilted bows recall how they once cut smoothly through the water, or the stern cut high to minimize drag. Presented in large scale (seven are 48 x 60, three are 20 x24), the viewer can enter into these images without getting wet feet or sensing any unpleasant odors.

Hans Egede No. 1 by Michael Collins. Source:
Michael Collins, "Hans Egede No. 1"

These hulks are remnants of a past time. Most commercial vessels today are made of metal and are subjected to ship-breakers on their demise (see Edward Burtynsky’s “Shipbreaking” currently on display at the Seaport Museum). And even pleasure craft are composed more of man-made resins and foams than wood, as attested by the flotsam and jetsam on our shores (a walk along Plumb Beach in Brooklyn will reveal the remains of some Fiberglas boats slowly being covered by the sand).

Although rather somber images, these photographs have an organic feel reflecting the all too natural process of decay.

Michael Collins
Pictures from the Hoo Peninsula

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