2015 - Ongoing
Pitcairn – an enigmatic place; legendary and infamous. A volcanic blip in the vast blue of the Pacific: just two miles long and one mile wide. Britain’s last Pacific Overseas Territory. As far from anywhere as it is possible to be, accessible only by the island's supply vessel every three months. By 2015, just one child and 42 islanders remained.
Pitcairn the paradise – famous as 'Mutiny on the Bounty island' - the Anglo-Tahitian
idyll, an image cemented by the Hollywood adaptations that followed. But there was
another, darker, side to the island. Secrets that had ripped the community apart,
convictions that had shocked the world. Wounds that would never heal. Spurred by
testimony from one brave Pitcairn girl, a total of eight living Pitcairn men were
convicted of sexual crimes against young girls in 2004 and 2007, one of whom was
the island’s mayor, Steve Christian, the closest living descendent of Fletcher
Christian, leader of the Bounty mutineers. The convicted men also included two of his sons, Randy Christian and Shawn Christian (mayor 2015-2019), who were convicted of gang rape. Paradise Lost.
On Pitcairn, every problem is amplified, and there is no respite – honesty is eclipsed
by need, women relying on their abusers. In this most isolated of places,
claustrophobia prevails. A complex and tense environment where loneliness and
secrecy thrive. Relationships are fractured, locations bare scars. Was it possible to
move on, and, more importantly, had it? Could Pitcairn survive the ageing population
and the shadow of its past?
Unwanted sexual advances and public showdowns peppered my stay, my story
merging with theirs. I was granted a window into the psychology of the space, through the web of mistrust, and the trappings of my gender. Almost everyone would only agree to be photographed in private, inside, away from judging eyes - a covert
operation. With each subject I had just one opportunity - many taking months of
coercion. As a result, those absent in the project perhaps tell a more potent story than those who are included. In the full project edit, empty rooms, rock fissures, and
damaged found photographs of long departed islanders hint at a concealed darkness.
This project explores the idea of Utopia, an unattainable idea created from afar. It
explores the ways in which a romantic history can often overshadow the reality, and
how we are often willing to turn away from the truth in order to preserve a fantasy.
For many, Pitcairn epitomised the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; a myth protected by distance, one that so many need to believe truly exists. Despite the revelations of the trials, the island’s fans make excuses for the men’s behaviour in order to preserve their fiction. This project aims to show both the beauty and the tragedy, and the danger of living life in the shadow of the surreal.
In the full project, images of empty rooms, rock fissures, objects, maps, audio snippets, relics, and damaged found photographs of long departed islanders sit alongside formal portraits. These intermingle to capture the spirit and struggle of this tiny island nation as it sits on the brink of implosion. Expired Polaroid film is used to capture the fragility of the place - its instability echoing the scarred underbelly of the island, its dreamlike quality capturing the whimsy of the legend.
Archival elements reveal what is now hidden from view, and combine with the images to recreate the discombobulating experience of life on Pitcairn where the truth is slippery and so often remains buried – a space where fact and fiction blend.