The Empty Quarter
Dubai International Financial Center,
DIFC Gate Village, Building 2.
Moments Before the Flood by Carl de Keyzer
A few days ago I managed to see the Belgian photographer’s, Carl de Keyzer, exhibition, Moments Before the Flood on its last day on view at The Empty Quarter gallery in Dubai.
De Keyzer, a Magnum photographer, has worked on many large-scale projects, which focus on the idea of ‘just before’. The basic premise of ‘just before’, captures moments before disaster or catastrophe strikes, such as the project Homo sovieticus, which explored communist Russia before the implosion of its regime and the 1992 project God Inc., which investigated new forms of religious fanaticism in the US, preceding the bloodbath in Waco in 1993.
Moments Before the Flood is a series of photographs taken from twenty European countries. The photographs all show coastal scenes captured at a point in time ‘just before’ the impending catastrophe of flood, created by rising sea levels due to climate change. With this in mind the viewer sees the images as not only beautiful, interesting seascapes but as scenes that contain uncertainty and a hidden threat.
The selection of works on view were large, 89.35cm x 67.45cm, and all presented in a horizontal format, which seemed to emphasis the horizon line that was visible in several images. While all the images had been taken beside the sea the photographer presented this in different ways in each. I’ll discuss my thoughts on three scenes, which I found to be of interest.
Valtaki, Greece shows a man, woman and child sitting on sandy beach on a, seemingly idyllic, blue-skied day. Occupying a large section of the top left of the frame sits the rusting wreck of a ship. Diagonally opposite in the bottom right of the frame, a dead gull lies on the sand. The family seems either unaware or not worried about this. The composition of this image is dynamically balanced. The gull, the family and the bow of the ship form points, which create a diagonal line, which leads the eye into the frame. The dead gull adds tension to the image, perhaps as a portent of future danger? I also wondered if the shipwreck and it’s deteriorating condition helps to illustrate the power of the sea?
Blankenberge, Belgium shows a much simpler scene. Dominating the frame are four stone pillars, perhaps of a pier, that are built into the sand. The sea is approaching from the left. In the far distance there is a glimpse of industry, an oilrig or crane? What I really liked about this image are the colours. Overall the hues are subdued. The pillars contrast boldly against the grey sky, grey sea and wet sand. They are covered in mosses in shades of green, yellow and browns that almost appear dark red. The natural colours and irregular pattern of the moss add texture to the pillars and create an effect that I found aesthetically pleasing. It is also evidence of how far the sea advances and rises, reminding the viewer of the photographer’s ‘just before’ message.
What I liked about Dunure, UK is that on first glance there is an apparent absence of catastrophe. The scene looks picturesque; castle ruins, blue skies, fluffy clouds, calm seawater and green hills. In the foreground three children play in, what looks like, a low-lying, circular maze constructed from large stones. However, given the basis of the project I began to look for signs of hidden danger and uncertainty. Perhaps the castle ruins illustrates the passage of time and, in turn, ‘progress’?
I also liked the sense of depth and space that the photograph shows, enhanced by the high viewpoint de Keyzer has chosen.
I enjoyed viewing this exhibition and have found myself over the past few days revisiting my notes and sketches. This has helped me to appreciate the subtlety that de Keyzer demonstrates by highlighting climate change and rising water levels by intentionally photographing the absence of disaster.
More information on de Keyzer’s work can be found at