Rachael Wright's photos of a coastal wall recognise the beauty in life's simple moments

California-based photographer Rachael Wright captures the everyday moments which often go unappreciated on social media with The Wall, a new series of photos that show communities of people relaxing on a public coastal wall in New Hampshire.

Described by Rachael as a portrait of "a place at the intersection of the finite and the infinite", The Wall explores the relationship between a half-mile sea wall on the edge of New England and the community of people who call it their own. Focusing on the seemingly insignificant and fleeting moments that take place on it, The Wall is a celebration of the democratic nature of public spaces and the symbiosis of humanity and nature.

The idea to capture the wall came to Rachael while working on a different project, Pluto Transits. As she drove past it in the January gloom, her eye was drawn to the wall's incongruous, almost hostile appearance. Sitting against the greyest of skies, keeping the stormy Atlantic Ocean at bay, the "government-funded state monolith" had all the hallmarks of a desolate place, save for the odd puffer jacket walking their dog.

But as spring gave way to summer and the locals came out of hibernation, the character of the area changed. "Out of nowhere, the wall was teeming with life and the light," Rachael tells Creative Boom. "I think I'm drawn to unifying communal spaces as an antidote to society feeling like it's becoming more fractured and individualistic.

"I really miss the days before streaming and on-demand TV, when millions of people would be watching the same programme or film at the same time. There's something about a collective experience – even if everyone within it is experiencing it separately – that makes me feel connected and 'safe'."

Speaking of the pitfalls of modern life, a search for the North Beach sea wall in question on Instagram threw up some dispiriting results. "It was an endless scroll of wannabe influencer thirst traps and weirdly sexual professional vanity shoots," Rachael explains. "It didn't represent anything I'd seen on the wall with my own eyes.

"I hate what Instagram has done to us. This is now the kind of imagery we passively consume day in, day out. None of it is real, and I think we all know that, if only subconsciously, which makes it all the more depressing and disconnecting."

Rachael's over-arching aim with The Wall was to combat this surface-level vacuity and instead recognise "the beauty in the simplicity" of those little moments in life which aren't considered worthy of sharing on social media.

"As I walked along the wall, there was something so striking to me about the intimacy of bared flesh and unguarded belongings in every direction," she reveals. "It felt like there was an unspoken collective vulnerability and trust."

Street photography like The Wall needs to strike a delicate balance. While it tries to capture those human moments where people go about their business like nobody is watching, it also has to be mindful of the ethics of photographing individuals without their permission.

"There are a few where I asked first, but, more often than not, it was a very instinctive process where I'd seen the picture before I'd even raised the camera," says Rachael. "And sometimes, whatever I'd seen was so fleeting that I didn't always manage to get it.

"For the most part, I wanted to be a silent witness, capturing people completely immersed in whatever they were doing, rather than have them pose for the camera and lose the essence of what I'd noticed about them in the first place.

"I hope the photographs I made for The Wall can answer those ethical questions and translate as a celebration of the people in them and how I think they encapsulate some of the best parts of what it is to be human."

Photographed on three different August afternoons and one early evening in September, The Wall defied Rachael's expectations by being a more short-term project than she anticipated. "Towards the end of the second day, I just knew I was done," she adds. "I didn't want to get repetitive or start hunting for something specific or contrived. My approach from the beginning was to let the pictures come to me, so when I could feel myself veering into overthinking territory, I decided to stop.

"The third day, I went back just to go to the beach and be one of the people I'd been photographing. And the September evening was more of a goodbye because I was heading back to California that week.

"I took my camera with me though because as much as I was trying to heed my instincts, I can't leave well enough alone! The majority of the final project sequence comes from the first day, so as it turns out, the instincts were right."

The project might have been short-lived, but it left a lasting impression on Rachael. Since moving back to California, she has found a webcam which displays the wall, meaning she can check in on it remotely. "My time living near the wall was one of those pivotal, transformational times in life, so I feel like I have a deep connection to the place," she concludes.

"I sometimes just have the webcam on my monitor in the background when working on other stuff. I know it so well. My brain fills in all the other senses, and it's weirdly comforting to know I can go back there any time I want, no matter where in the world I am.

"As I write this, it's 84 degrees Fahrenheit, and the tide is high, so it's perfect Wall conditions."


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