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Searching for stillness

“As soon as I pick up the camera, I find calm amongst the chaos.”

Words and images by Rebecca Hawkey

In 1996, at the age of three, stuffed between houseplants and my older sister, I sat in the back of my parents’ Talbot Avenger as we trundled down the M5. A somewhat spontaneous decision on their behalf to move us from the streets of Rayners Lane, London, to the verdant wilds of Cornwall. The gratitude I have for them is insurmountable to this day. Growing up here instilled in me a sense of adventure, wild spirit, and rugged soul. A need to get out and explore all that Cornwall tries to keep hidden. The harsh winds and rain that batter the coast in the bleak midwinter, whipping up sand and sea, make it my preferred season to spend behind the lens, recording mother nature at her most fierce and unforgiving. I fell in love with photography, Ansel Adams in particular, during college. I came across his 1916 shot of ‘El Capitan’, taken on a Kodak 1 Box Brownie, and the composition, contrast and intimate grandeur evoked such an emotional response, not just for the subject but also the process, that I couldn’t forget it. I ended up borrowing a film camera for an exchange trip to Norway, which allowed me to capture the textures, tones and vast beauty that Kyrksæterøra has to offer. I was lucky enough to have the facilities available at college to develop this roll myself. I respect the patience it takes to see the outcome, instant gratification removed. I am still very much a novice when it comes to film and digital, but my love for both keeps me wanting to learn more.

In 2021, with four years of Australian living under my belt, I found myself on Cornish soil once more. Inspiration from an old friend had me dusting off my dilapidated Nikon and exploring the local breaks, shooting the kind of winter swell that Cornwall is renowned for. I found there to be something intrinsically harmonious about documenting someone doing something they love, especially surfing, where the connection between surfer and sea is palpable. Whenever I shoot surfers, and show them afterwards, their clarity for that particular wave is crystal. Their ability to recall exactly the moment in question is a remarkable demonstration of living in the present, and the concentration that the sport demands. The combination of visual elements that the ocean and her visitors provide is a creative treasure-trove for me behind the lens. Playing with light, composition or shutter speed allows me to experiment with my creativity. It’s challenging, but supremely satisfying when it works out. The level of joy is amplified when a surfer appreciates a shot, a moment in which two separate experiences collide. When out shooting I ask myself an endless sea of questions; I wonder what the light will do next? Where can I be to get the best angle? Will they go for that wave? Time stands still and I too immerse myself fully in the moment.

Photography to me has always been a practical response to something emotionally compelling. Landscapes, people, places or experiences that evoke a strong feeling, be it good or bad, is something I struggle to casually pass by without wanting to pick up the camera, to create a permanent narrative. Shooting grants me moments of simplicity that everyday life can occasionally lack. It’s enticing and enriching, and with another Cornish winter brewing, I for one cannot wait.

Instagram | rebecca_hawkey


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