In 1990, Thomas Joshua Cooper undertook a circumnavigation of Scotland to coincide with Glasgow’s year as the European City of Culture. This photograph, showing the ocean off Point Ardnamurchan in Scotland, was taken during this trip. Along with another image in Tate’s collection, South-most Arrival - The English Channel | At the hour of the Total Solar Eclipse, but the Day Before | Bumble Rock, Lizard Point, Cornwall | The South-most Point of Mainland Great Britain 2001 (Tate P78605), this work is representative of his body of photographs which show the view from the furthermost edges of the British Isles. In The Swelling of the Sea, the water appears as an all-over pattern, a long-exposure softening the waves so that they resemble smoke or soft brushstrokes. The pale foreground of the image fades into an inky blackness, these murky depths evoking ideas of the sublime.
Cooper frequently composes his scenes in such a way that the horizon line is invisible, resulting in an experience of immersion in the landscape. This concern with the immersive nature of the work links him to the tradition of Romantic and Sublime painting. He says:
‘I am interested in making an intelligent art of high emotion with a specific cultural purpose. There are issues of the spirit which involve longing and belonging which reverberate through all of the work, I approach this lyric tradition through gazing, duration is an essential condition of gazing, it infuses all of the pictures that I make.’ (‘Thomas Joshua Cooper - an interview with David Bellingham February 1998’, Source, Issue 14)
The documentary and exploratory nature of Cooper’s photographs, taken on expeditions, references nineteenth century American photography, and he can also be seen as continuing the lineage of land artists such as Richard Long (born 1945) and Hamish Fulton (born 1946), in the sense of his mapping the extremities of the land. There are references too to modernist painting, such as the work of the Abstract Expressionists and colour-field painters. The chiaroscuro effect is often highlighted by the subtle colouration Cooper adds to his black and white photographs by painting areas with chemicals, such as selenium.
Thomas Joshua Cooper: point of no return, exhibition catalogue, Haunch of Venison, London, 2004, reproduced p.18, p.134.
Morgan Falconer, ‘Thomas Joshua Cooper: The World’s Edge – The Atlantic Basin Project’, Portfolio Magazine, no. 40, December 2004, pp.34-41.
Susan Daniel-McElroy, Thomas Joshua Cooper: at the very edges of the world, exhibition catalogue, Tate St Ives, 2001, reproduced p.3.