Photographer profile - Mandy Williams
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 May 2020
Photographer Mandy Williams returned to her teenage haunts in Worthing for her latest photography series. Simone Hellyer finds out what keeps bringing her back
For her most recent solo exhibition, photographer Mandy Williams travelled back to Worthing, her teenage home, to capture a series of brooding images of the sea.
Titled A strange and familiar sea the exhibition at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery brought together work from three photographic series about the sea, two of which were shot in Worthing. Her Sea Level and Frame series of photographs focus on the faded beauty of the beach shelters along the town’s promenade.
“In Sea Level the photographs are taken at high tide, when the shelters are empty. Their windows are weathered and scratched by the wind. The view of the sea through this prism produces images that are quite abstract – the sea and the markings on the glass have equal importance in the finished photograph,” she explains, adding: “The images are about absence and presence because you’ve got traces of people in the scratches, marks and dust. To me it also just felt like a very real way of looking at the sea and experiencing all of its textures.”
On why she chose Worthing, Mandy says: “I lived in Worthing when I was a teenager and I have a lot of memories of sitting in the beach shelters after school and looking out to sea, so I have a real connection to the place. My parents moved away and then came back to Worthing. After my mum died, my father stayed here until he died in 2016. I would go down and visit him every few weeks and I was actually with him at the beach when I first started taking the Frame shots.”
Frame captures people as they walk by the shelters, their bodies indistinguishable when viewed through the glass. “I looked through the windows and captured people as they went past and then fused figures together so that the images became quite sculptural and abstract. I also shot a video in the Frame series, which was part of the exhibition and can be viewed on my website too,” Mandy adds.
Mandy also acquired a new skill for the exhibition by making a series of acrylic tiles, as she explains: “There are three semi-transparent tiles in sea-coloured hues that replicate the glass of the shelter with all its lines and marks. It was something new for me and very interesting to do.”
For the Beyond Land series that also featured in the exhibition, Mandy travelled to Whitstable in Kent. Shot in 2016, just after the Brexit referendum result, Mandy’s images of people walking along a causeway on the beach that reveals itself at low tide can be seen as a metaphor for the unusual social and political times of the day. She explains: “At low tide you just see lines of people walking in all weather, and in summer you’ll see people walking even as the path disappears, so it looks like they’re walking on water. The first time I saw it, I was just amazed. I was also shooting tidal islands around the same time, which was just after the 2016 referendum result and the series is all about the idea of separation and re-attachment. For me, it demonstrates a feeling of being separated from Europe and the people walking along the causeway look as though they are heading towards Europe.”
Much of Mandy’s work depicts landscapes, but with a social or political undercurrent. Her work is also very personal and attached to memory, such as the series she created of her family home after both her parents had passed away. “I documented the house as I was clearing it out with my aunt and cousin. It was very emotional and became a photo series. But after my dad died, I found that I didn’t want to cut ties with Worthing, so I started another series called Replace,” she explains, adding: “I took pages from my teenage diaries that mentioned places in Worthing, wrapped them up and tied them with ribbon and left them in those places. I stayed and documented as people came past and opened them. They would often re-wrap them and put them back for others to find, which was lovely. It went on for about ten months, with me leaving things on Highdown Hill, the beach, in Macari’s, the Dome cinema, all sorts of places.”
Mandy’s work also has a strong environmental focus and she has previously documented forest fires and river pollution in Canada, where her in-laws live. She also developed her video skills by documenting fly-tipping in south east London. “It’s an amazing area, a beauty spot really, but it has been just completely spoiled by vans unloading their junk into the river. It’s shocking because you see little ducks trying to make their way through a river with fridges and sofas in,” she explains.
Video is just one of the skills Mandy is adding to her arsenal; she is also undertaking an MA in photography. “I’ve been a photographer for a long time, but I’ve never formally studied photography at university and I wanted to see where my work is placed in contemporary photography now,” she says.
Good to know:
A Strange and Familiar Sea was scheduled to be at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery until 23 May 2020 but the gallery is currently closed in accordance with government advice. You can see more of Mandy’s work here: mandywilliams.com