On Watch

Dan Harnett
  • Opens: 23 June 2021
  • Closes: 5 July 2021
  • Where: Gallery 1

Inspired by his long and close association with the sea, Dan's work ranges from abstract to still life photography, drawing on experiences and memories from his time in the merchant navy and childhood memories growing up on the Kent coast. 

Dan's photography is an extension of his life's voyage, creating works that explore human relationships with the sea, conjuring images, stories and reflections. Having spent years at sea, Dan is well aware of the harsh environment and the sea and ocean's hidden strength. He is keenly cognisant of the different ways we experience the sea - a seafarer who lives and works on the water has a different outlook and priorities to a landlubber experiencing it from the shoreline.  


'On Watch' is a collection of abstract photography that draws on a body of past work 'Horizon' and recent work created during the pandemic – 'Atoms & Molecules.' 

"Horizons is a collection of photographs inspired by memories and reflections of a previous time on the high seas. On a clear day, the horizon can be as straight and defined as a navigators rhumb line. The line at the farthest place that you can see, where the sky seems to touch the sea or indeed the land. 

To all, the concept of horizon brings its own importance and perspectives.

I have spent many an hour on the bridge of a merchant vessel, starring at the horizon. 

Whether this be crossing the oceans or laying at anchor after a long ocean passage, before entering port. Whilst on an ocean passage it could be days before one saw a break in the horizon, a distant passing ship or a squall and eventually land fall. It was normally the case we could smell the approach of land before we saw it appear over the horizon. 

Depending on the weather conditions the distance to the horizon may vary from day to day. Before the days of GPS (Global positioning systems) us mariners depended on a clear view of the horizon to navigate the oceans. The position of the sun against the horizon allowed us to calculate our noon position. And again, at nautical twilight we were able to plot our position using the stars and planets. 

Without a clear sky and a visible horizon we were navigating the oceans by dead reckoning. As an artist I now see stories played out as marks on the waterline of the hulls of sleek racing yachts, plodding fishing boats and other abandoned vessels. Worn and weathered by years at sea, or slowly deteriorating in the corner of some boat yard. I see each hull as a visual log of voyages past. 

A view of my past, a view from the distant horizon. In making these images, I am transported back to my time as an apprentice, making and repairing covers out of canvas, the rough texture of the natural hemp, and the twine, canvas, and beeswax smell. To this day, the scent of these raw materials is still with me; along with the rusty metal, hydraulic oil and heavy diesel pungent smells, that I associate with my time aboard these merchant vessels.

Looking towards the horizon these pervading smells fade, as does the ships wash that we leave behind; transiting the North Atlantic. 

37°28'N 28°36'W – Noon - 29th September 1985"

"Atoms and Molecules is a collection of photographs created during the third UK lockdown.

Over the last year, we all experienced a change in our daily lives, a new norm imposed by rules to keep us safe in this unprecedented time. A stark reminder that we are simply a configuration of atoms and molecules, vulnerable to viral attack.

We were learning to keep our distance from a previous time of physical contact and social interaction. The regulations defined who we could and could not see. And those in your immediate circle became known as your bubble.

My response was to become lost in a creative bubble. Meditative and thoughtful, reminiscing about pre-pandemic times. Being disconnected from my customary practice of photographing the sea drove me to experiment with water closer to home - to simulate situations that evoked similar interactions. Essentially, seeking a mechanism for continuing to explore my fascination with the froth, foam and bubbles of breaking waves on the beach or invoking memories of a time at sea, a world far removed from today and the current pandemic.

I found myself compelled to work with subject matter that reflected these circling thoughts, what had become unavailable to me (the sea), and what I was avoiding (the virus). The two became intrinsically linked: the action of breaking waves injecting air from the atmosphere into the water column leading to the creation of bubbles - replaced here with water from within the garden or indeed the kitchen sink - and transmission risk through invisible airborne particles visualised as roughly spherical with surface projections. Reflective of the daily dose of danger beamed into my room. By creating these works, I found some sense of empowerment; from these constraints, fears and challenges, I could create works of intrigue and beauty. Knowing like atoms, one day, we will come together to form molecules as our bubbles expand, and daily life returns to a new norm. 

Until that day, stay safe 51°21.7' N, 1°01.5'E"

                                                                         Dan Harnett 2021


When allowed, Dan enjoys travelling to other shores and distant islands where meteorology and geography combine to create an environment far removed from the stony beaches of home.  Thus, ensuring his photography remains fresh and exciting, as well as reassuringly abstract and contemporary. 

Exhibitor Information

Dan Harnett