La Côte, a photography special

FTWeekend magazine’s August photography special looks to the coast as a place, a concept, a source of inspiration. For the subjects of Sophie Calle’s images, it is a place of discovery; in Edmund Clark, they wonder about what constitutes a border. Ying Ang’s work emanates from the Gold Coast underworld and, for Ingrid Pollard, it becomes a source of personal history. Like the shoreline itself, these works are subject to change over time.

Zhang Xiao

“When I was a child, I was hungry for the sea,” Zhang Xiao writes in the introduction to his photo book. Littoral. Born in the city of Yantai on the coast of Shandong Province, Zhang sees China’s 18,000 kilometers of coastline as the focal point of the country’s transformation in recent decades. The multitude of construction projects and the massive flow of people from rural to urban areas, as well as much of the national wealth, are concentrated along the coast.

Zhang remembers that when he was on the road to take the photos for this project, people often asked him questions. “‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Is there anything here worth photographing?’ I also asked myself the same question, ‘Why did I come here?’, and I always answered, ‘Just to see it, to look around.’ I want to record moments of China as it is today, record the reality of people and landscapes with my camera, and look out to sea.”

The sea becomes a place of physical and psychological retreat, something that cannot be easily transformed by human hands. It is an idea as much as a reality, mysterious, unknowable and yet familiar. As Zhang writes, “The sea is the beginning of lives and dreams.” Lyrics by Josh Lustig

La Cote a photography special

Beihai © Zhang Xiao

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Yantai © Coastline, published by

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Zhanjiang © Zhang Xiao

Edmond Clark
White Cliffs

© Edmond Clark

As the UK’s border with mainland Europe, the city of Dover and its famous white cliffs are steeped in historical significance. It is a place of arrival and departure by sea, and a site of resistance and defence.

The Strait of Dover in the English Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world. The Port of Dover is the busiest freight and passenger route in Europe. Yet the people of Dover voted by a substantial majority to leave the EU.

Post-Brexit, the area is currently making headlines for long queues of parked lorries and holiday traffic.

© Edmund Clark

The port of Dover was also the main place of arrival for people and families recovered from the English Channel on their way to Britain to seek asylum. The UK Border Force then sorts them into age and gender categories for processing elsewhere. The single men are being transported separately to the detention facility at nearby Manston Airfield by staff from the same company that escorted P&O Ferries crews this year, after being dismissed without warning and replaced by staff from agency paid less than the legal minimum wage.

I was born in Dover and have returned all my life to the cliffs and beaches of East Kent, but had never spent much time in the town itself. Like most people, I’ve been through this on my way to other places. The divisions created by the Brexit debate prompted me to walk its streets. Current political and social tensions maintain this imperative.

It is a work in progress. It’s a personal reflection on the significance of the area through its architecture, landscape and chalk geology: that slab of whiteness beneath the South Downs that erodes as the cliff meets the elements at Dover. Words by Edmund Clark

Sophie Calle
See the sea

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© Sophie Calle/ Actes Sud

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© Sophie Calle/ Actes Sud

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© See the Sea, published in 2013 by Actes Sud

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© Sophie Calle/ Actes Sud

In Istanbul, a city surrounded by the sea, I met people who had never seen it. I took them to the shore of the Black Sea. They came to the edge of the water, separately, their eyes lowered, closed or masked. I was behind them. I asked them to look at the sea and then turn around to show me those eyes that had just seen the sea for the first time. Words by Sophie Calle.

Ingrid Pollard
Oceans apart

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Oceans apart 1989 © Ingrid Pollard. All rights reserved, DACS 2022

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Oceans apart 1989 © Ingrid Pollard. All rights reserved, DACS 2022

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The coast is a recurring theme in the work of Ingrid Pollard. In “Oceans Apart”, she brings together archival footage of British colonialism and slavery with her own short texts and photographs. The hand-tinted family photos became “depictions of black people doing regular things like being by the sea in the 1950s. You didn’t see that back then,” she says, “not on the postcards. So I made mine.” Lyrics by Griselda Murray Brown

Sohrab Hura
The side

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© Sohrab Hura/Magnum Photos

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© Sohrab Hura/Magnum Photos

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© Sohrab Hura/Magnum Photos

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© Sohrab Hura/Magnum Photos

These photographs were taken at night during religious festivities in a seaside village in Tamil Nadu, southern India, where people flock to celebrate Kali, the Hindu goddess of death, for a week every year. Devotees transform into mythical creatures and celestial beings. They enter a frenzied state of trance after which they are carried out to sea, exhausted, to wash away the masquerade. This constantly blurred margin between land and water becomes a point of release beyond which bathers experience fear, surprise, anger, sadness, confidence, anticipation, excitement, contempt but also delight. The physical coastline becomes the metaphor of a broken piece of skin barely holding back a volatile state of being ready to explode. Lyrics of Sohrab Hura

Golden Coast

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© YingAng

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© YingAng

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© YingAng

I was lifted by the taste of lawnmower fumes in the air and the dark glow of crows constantly circling. It was in this Lynchian landscape, dominated by intolerance and unexpected violence, that I became a reluctant witness to more crimes than I could name by the time I was old enough to leave. “A sunny place for sleazy people” was a phrase that began circulating in the Australian media referring to the ongoing melodramas of criminals who ended up settling on the Gold Coast. The town became known as a perfect strip of golden beach where someone with a bad reputation could reinvent themselves, where tales of execution-style murders at the local mall were whispered behind pastel-colored walls and porcelain-coated smiles. Once labeled as the tourism capital and now declared the crime capital of Australia, this is the story of a place that laid the imperfect foundations of its character on a mirage of tranquillity. Lyrics of Ying Ang

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© Gold Coast publication is available at

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© YingAng

Ingrid Pollard: Carbon Slowly Turning is at Contemporary Turner. three drops of blood Thelma Hulbert Gallery and There and then at The Museum of English Country Life

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