British Journal of Photography

Haven Her Body Was

By Diane Smyth


In his essay Desert Islands, Gilles Deleuze opens by distinguishing between continental and oceanic islands. Continental islands are pieces of land separated from a mainland, he explains, “born of disarticulation, erosion, fracture”. Oceanic islands, on the other hand, emerge from the sea, some formed from coral reefs, others from underwater eruptions. “These two kinds of island, continental and originary, reveal a profound opposition between ocean and land”, he continues.

“Continental islands serve as a reminder that the sea is on top of the earth, taking advantage of the slightest sagging in the highest structures; oceanic islands, that the earth is still there, under the sea, gathering its strength to punch through to the surface. We can assume that these elements are in constant strife, displaying a repulsion for one another. In this we find nothing to reassure us.”

This text is one of the inspirations for Noemie Goudal's latest series, Haven Her Body Was, and its duality echoes through her work. Through eight images depicting islands, caves and nests, she plays with light and shade, the natural and the artificial, the constructed and the found, sometimes within one shot and sometimes within the series. Even the idea of the “haven” is unstable - as Goudal points out, islands, caves and nests can be places of safety, but they can also represent stifling isolation.

“Deleuze’ text is brilliant and probably the basis of this project” she says. “When you have something sticking out of the water, it's an island, but what we see and acknowledge is something floating, the part we can see.”

“Everybody comes with their own experience, so one person can look and say, ‘Oh that looks like it's in that exotic country, like a structure on the lake’s, and another, ‘That's a bunker, definitely’. It's interesting to see people start to think about the possibilities of what could be made.”

“The series is the first Goudal has produced since graduating from the RCA in 2010. Upon leaving college she travelled extensively, but continued to work; after a year she felt she'd done enough research and took stock. The result is a project shot all over the world, in which the places where she worked are irrelevant. ‘What I'm trying to do is not be systematic’ she says. I like each series to be almost like a film - you put things together so that you have loads of different perspectives, then hopefully, when you look at them all, you are immersed into different spaces.”