Washed out sandscapes, unnamed city blocks and sunbathing beach bums come together to create an unlikely world in Ward Robert’s new series Flotsam. The images sit on that line between reality and fiction. The elements are familiar, but it’s their juxtaposition that is curious.
The title of the series and book recognises this coming together of disparate fragments. For those unfamiliar with maritime culture, the word ‘flotsam’ refers to the floating leftovers of a shipwreck. The poetic coming together of this flotsam in Roberts photographs, he says, was both a matter of chance and design.
Roberts shot the series over two summers between 2015 and 2017. “During the first summer the beach was still being rebuilt after hurricane Sandy,” he explains. “There’s wasn’t much signage or recognisable landmarks.
“[The second time around] the beach was packed with people but careful camera placement allowed me to curate who and what was in the frame.” It is this part coincidental, part deliberate lack of markings that makes the images feel divorced from reality.
By creating an anonymous world Roberts also hoped to capture a universal experience. “I liked the idea of photographing a specific – and famous – beach in New York and turning it into a sort of metaphor of the suspended time people experience at the beach, no matter what their social class, race, age or gender.”
Adding further intrigue is Roberts’ soft colour pallete, colours whisper their existence almost apologetically. These pastel shades have become his signature, dominating his recent work. “I have previously explored a darker aesthetic, but it’s my light work that gets the most attention,” he says. “The light colours reflect my soft personality and my seeking of gentle comfort.”