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Royal Museums Greenwich Puts Seafaring Photographers on Display

national maritime museum
Image courtesy Royal Museums Greenwich

Published Dec 8, 2020 7:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

Seafarers live out their working lives far from the public eye, and their days and nights rarely appear in art or popular culture. A new show organized by Royal Museums Greenwich - "Exposure: Lives at Sea" - gives six seafaring photographers a forum to put the mariner's life on display. 

"The importance of seafarers has been brought into sharp focus during the COVID pandemic. Seafarers are key workers and helped keep our supermarkets stocked, and yet hundreds of thousands of them have been stranded at sea. This exhibition will hopefully help bring recognition to the important role seafarers play," said curator Laura Boon, who holds the post of Lloyd's Register Foundation Public Curator at Royal Museums Greenwich. "It was really important to us that every photographer [in the show] was employed within the maritime sector in order that they can give a more intimate portrayal of what their life is like." 

Chief engineer Cezar Gabriel's photos give viewers an inside look at life aboard a tanker during the COVID lockdown, when his vessel was stuck at anchor and unable to berth for three months - an experience familiar to so many seafarers around the world. "I tried to give people at home a glimpse into a world that they knew little or nothing about," Gabriel said. "The ocean is everything, it's life itself. It's home." 

Scottish commercial photographer Peter Iain Campbell decided to train up as a rig worker in 2013 so that he could get access to an "environment that hadn't really been covered photographically before." With portraits of offshore workers and images of the rigs they live on for weeks at a time, he aims to tell the story of the people of the UK North Sea oil and gas industry. 

Jennifer Adler, a conservation photographer and underwater journalist, contributed images of the lives of oceanographic researchers - a body of work she has built over the years with projects for The National Geographic, The Nature Conservancy and Huffington Post. "The motivation behind my work is to bring science to a larger group of people and to bring it to people in a way that's impactful and that connects people with scientists," Adler said. 

Longtime fisherman Corey Arnold contributed images of the rough conditions found in Alaskan waters, alongside the friendships and working relationships formed among crewmates. Diver and photographer Octavio Aburto brought imagery of reef conservation and ecotourism in Mexico, and data manager Michal Krzysztofowicz submitted a photo project documenting a voyage to Antarctica (and an eight-month sojourn at an isolated research station). 

Their work may be seen in person at the National Maritime Museum in London, which reopened at the end of Britain's monthlong lockdown on December 2. For remote viewing, an abbreviated online show may be found at https://www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/we-recommend/attractions/exposure-lives-at-sea