Big Fence / Pitcairn Island
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Rhiannon Adam’s complex artist book is based on her three-months stay on [Pitcairn] island…It is an impressive in-depth research project that pictures Pitcairn as a place of stark contrast: a romantic natural paradise on the one hand and an isolated small human community with dark secrets on the other.
DR LENA FRITSCH
Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art at the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
The stunningly beautiful volume, Big Fence/Pitcairn Island, is a Venus-flytrap of a photo archival narrative that lures you into the history, mystery, and allure of a South Pacific idyll only to wrench you back into the contemporary undercurrent of violence toward women, rape, and male hierarchy.
The Pitcairn Islands are Britain’s last Overseas Territory in the Pacific Ocean. Pitcairn Island itself (25°4′0″S, 130°6′0″W) is the only inhabited island in the group, and though it is diminutive in both size (measuring just two miles by one mile), and population (now fewer than 50), it has garnered widespread interest for the last two centuries.
In 1790 it became home to a group of fugitives; those responsible for the most famous mutiny in history aboard HMS Bounty, led by Fletcher Christian. The descendants of these mutineers and their Tahitian captives still populate the island today. For many outside observers, trusting in Hollywood's romanticised adaptations of the 'Bounty' story, Pitcairn epitomises Utopia. A land of milk and honey under the Pacific skies – always just out of reach, but vivid in the mind’s eye.
In 2004, this façade slipped, when a series of child sexual abuse allegations emerged. The British investigation, Operation Unique, uncovered decades of abuse. Abuse that had been festering in plain sight. The Pitcairn trials led to the convictions of eight Pitcairn men, including several former island officials and the then-mayor Steve Christian, whose home, ‘Big Fence’, forms the title of this project.
In 2015, Rhiannon Adam, inspired by a childhood gift of The Mutiny on The Bounty and a desire to capture the island’s fragility on expiring analogue film, made the long journey to Pitcairn Island. Due to the quarterly shipping schedule, she remained trapped on the island for 96 nights. Naturally suspicious of ‘journalists’, Pitcairners were, on the whole, reluctant to be involved in Adam’s project. Throughout the book, subjects mostly appear alone, photographed in solitude and away from prying eyes.
Designed to be as impenetrable and complex as the island itself, the book is comprised of two parts: Adam’s own experience of the island as related through her captions and personal stories, and a volume of photographs and related archive. The latter charts the development of the particular characteristics that led to community breakdown, from both a contemporary and historical perspective. Throughout, Adam encourages us to consider the dangers of romanticism and to reflect on our collective culpability for female subjugation.
Big Fence / Pitcairn Island is a powerful and unsettling exploration of a claustrophobic ‘Paradise Lost’: a broken society shrouded in mistrust.
The book is the first prize of the 5th edition of The Meitar Award for Excellence in Photography organised in 2020 as a part of PHOTO IS:RAEL’s International Photography Festival in cooperation with the Zvi and Ofra Meitar Family Fund.
Longlisted for the 2022 Kraszna-Krausz Photography Book Award
- Shortlisted for the 2022 Lucie Photo Book Prize
- PhMuseum’s Best Photobooks of 2022
- El Pais: Los mejores libros de fotografía de 2022
- The LENSCRATCH favorite books of 2022
- The PhotoEye's Favourite Books of 2023 (David Campany)
IN THE PRESS
- lenscratch.com (in English)
- Huck Magazine (in English)
- Fisheye (in English)
- Blind Magazine (in English)
- M Le magazine du Monde (in French)
Photographs and texts: Rhiannon Adam
Essays: Gem Fletcher and Rhiannon Adam
Cover drawing: Ricardo Martínez Ortega
Book design: Aneta Kowalczyk and Rhiannon Adam
Image processing: Aneta Kowalczyk
Cover: Hard with double spine and a pocket
Inside: Fedrigoni Old Mill Gesso, Munken Print White and Munken Print Cream
Format: 205x255 mm
Number of pages: 312
Number of photographs: 124
Number of inserts: 6
Language version: English
Print run: 800 copies
Printing: Argraf, Warsaw, Poland and Aldgate Press, London, UK (for Family Tree and the Pitcairn Island map)
Binding: Argraf, Warsaw, Poland
Publication date: November 2021
Publisher: BLOW UP PRESS