Sewn to the Tideline

Sewn to the Tideline

by Sam Bleakley

Photographer Ben Weller, stylist Polly Wilkinson and Marfa Stance founder Georgia Dant curated this incredible shoot on the wild cliff edges of west Cornwall. The sky was cobalt blue and a strong easterly wind combed the limitless expanse of sea all the way to the Atlantic horizon. The quilted coats and jackets immediately looked at one with the surroundings, form and function fused, their irresistible olive, sage, lime, phosphene, orange, stone and copper colours dancing in the early morning light. Against the vaulting granite rocks the Italian and Japanese fabrics looked striking. A bird of prey hovered, stitched to the sky, before dipping, emerging with a catch in its talons. Sandy, my wife, life-long partner and the mother of our wonderful children, looked amazing. She gave off a fresh energy, vitality and a gorgeous zest. And very quickly this entire crew of beautiful people on the shoot worked in unison to make the moment sing. As Ben and his team started to photograph Sandy, I saw her confidence grow, now empowered. And she soon radiated wisdom and authenticity. We all took the pulse of the situation and recognised that something special was happening.

 

Marfa Stance

Bringing bright and brilliant people together requires planning to build bridges and generate opportunities. With this in mind, Ben and Marfa Stance created a very special experience for the shoot. The trace from these gatherings generates what the French poet St-John Perse called a ‘tidemark’. Perse’s ‘tidemark’ is a salt-stain that cannot be erased but is enjoyed as a permanent print on the psyche of inspiration. Not just the mark of time, but of time well spent. These experiences not only broaden the mind, but also enlarge the heart and imagination, helping us all to respect not only people, but also the character of landscape, the spirit of place, and the power of fashion.  

The landscape of west Cornwall is both haunting and stunning, scarred with the ruins of once great mining industries, but also littered with coves and crystal clear water that has a Mediterranean feel, separating it from the rest of the country. After the collapse of tin-mining, much of west Cornwall was the first post-industrial landscape in Europe. This rough edge is where the train line ends, the Atlantic Ocean begins, and where the Neolithic burial grounds point to the ancient place of the dead. The further west one goes, the more concentrated are the burial sites, culminating in the Isles of Scilly. This makes sense, as the sun sets here and is reborn on the opposite horizon. The dead must surely follow the sun, as it is dissolved daily only to rise elsewhere. Living in west Cornwall you learn to cherish the mystery and melancholy this breeds, and the changing weather patterns, like when the sea is shrouded in mist, or the smell of damp earth rises from the ground after a rainstorm. This place is both the end and beginning of the earth – in summer bathed in reflected light from the ocean; in winter, stark, sinister and bleak. The changes are extreme and extraordinary, but the air is pure, and the light reflects from the sea to give clarity and colour that are hard to match. At night, there is no light pollution and the stars are spectacular. The lows, or depressions, bring surf, but also mirrored moods, the Atlantic weather sweeping up and down the leg of Britain as if an agitated giant were rolling and unrolling a sock of mist and rain.

Marfa Stance

These edges, both literal and metaphorical, physical and creative, have shaped all the people and products on this shoot. The whole day gathered a refreshing rainbow spectrum of ideas and approaches, both local and global. The team worked fast and effortlessly, with expert timing, like firewalkers in the ionized centre of the moment. But there was also always grace and soul, with the flourish of space. Everyone stepped in to play a crucial role. Ben’s photography is precise and elegant, but with a raw quality that seems to capture both the inner workings of human nature, the intense flavours of great clothing, and the vivid landscapes that shape us. I was born and raised in these landscapes, while Sandy grew up in the sub-tropics of South Africa, and her deep turquoise eyes still hold the teachings of Zulu women and the Indian Ocean. Cornwall welcomed her with open arms. In this alchemical mix I loved watching the teamwork, and all the fashion details moving in the wind: the elegant edging of the coats, the signature quilt, the parachute parka, sometimes a curtain razor to a show of skin, or a soft line to colour and comfort, but always a feast for the senses. And then there were sudden moments of awe watching Sandy unzipped and zipped into jackets, ice, fire, storm, calm, all in a deep cauldron of beauty and a gift of the present.

The first shoot location was west facing, near Lands End, perched on the cliffs aside heather, gorse, marram grass, foxgloves and montbretia. Then the second location was down at sea level, near Cape Cornwall, where the tang of seaweed filled the air, and Sandy looked like a mermaid goddess in the bronze parachute bomber. Ben directed her through the alleyways of igneous rocks aside ribbons of saltwater, silica sand and beaded jellyfish. She was styled by the team, and then a current ran through, a thrill at the possibilities, where the spirit burst into flame, and we were all fully absorbed. This was the sign of time well spent, capped by a seal swimming in the background for company. Sea life and see life.

Marfa Stance

I have been to these two locations thousands of times, and we often walk here with the kids, but on this day they suddenly seemed fresh, vivid, intensely interesting, like waking up while already awake. Listening to the camera click in harmony with light changes, and the team perform as one whole, everything had a way of being emphasized, underlined. There’s a danger that you can become oblivious to your environment. You become dull to the world, an-aesthetised. The point is to become aestheticised, to use your senses, to notice things. This is the beauty of great fashion – an aesthetic adventure, with sustainability at heart.

For the coda, and the final shoot, we travelled to the south facing coast of west Cornwall, just behind the working harbour at Newlyn, greeted with the view across Mount’s Bay. West Penwith is at the toe of the foot of Cornwall, perched on a massive upwelling of granite. We had been at the rugged north-west edge. In contrast this southerly underbelly is lush, with sheltered evergreen woods bisected by turbulent streams that run away to feed the sea. Here you feel the return from the dangers of sea, where we engage with our homes and livelihoods, where things are tethered to feed the domestic, and where terroir - the very smell and taste of the place reigns supreme.

Marfa Stance

Sandy was styled by Polly, Georgia and the rest of the team in a stunning black outfit, wearing an anthracite cropped quilt. She stood as still as a bird, while all around seemed to broil and boil and Ben started to photograph. This was poet St-John Perse’s salt-stained ‘tidemark’. It was the model of the perspective of a mother, a healer, a wise woman, gained by distance, one of simultaneous cool contemplation and hot involvement. And it was the end of a wonderful journey, a creative storm that had passed and the tideline it left was filled with inspiration. This was the mark of time well spent, a new journey now beginning.

Photography: Ben Weller



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