Wendy Pye’s ongoing personal project Beachy Head focuses on the well-known natural beauty spot in south east England, - a place where undulating pastures meet precipitous, white chalk cliffs but is also a well-known location for suicide attempts with a history dating back to the 1600s. Since records began in 1965, over 500 people have taken their lives at Beachy Head and it's estimated that between 70 - 100 people make an attempt every year. It is has become the deadliest cliff in the world and the third most popular suicide spot after Japan's Aokigahara Woods and San Fransisco's Golden Gate Bridge.
Pye has created a body of work that has evolved over four years, from documenting the shrines left in memory of people, who have jumped from this sheer cliff, through to her first short experimental film, Six Feet from the Edge that surveys the interaction between people and the cliff edge of Beachy Head. Throughout the project reference is made to thresholds, often in terms of metaphysical or psychological states, as for example, the transformation between living and dying. At the same time, physical thresholds between land and sea, such as the cliff edge, represent a literal and metaphorical dropping off point.
The first series of the photographic project titled In Memory Of... documents the floral memorials from day through to night, exploring notions of memory, loss and death. Since the death of Princess Diana, the display of public grief has become more popular in the UK and recently flowers, piles of stones, crosses and soft toys are increasingly being placed along the Beachy Head headland. These shrines serve as a response to the tragedy and as a memorial to the suicide victims that have jumped off the Beachy Head cliff face. Pye realized that not only do these shrines stand alone at the intersection of both private memory and public grief but they are also symbolic of human fragility, triggering our own unconscious fears surrounding death.
Interspersed with this images are photographs from the second series, titled Backdrop (ongoing). The occasional stretch of wire fence, dried out weather beaten foliage and sweeping vistas, help establish a sense of the backdrop to this beautiful yet disturbing landscape, where beauty and death extraordinarily collide.
The third series Liminal (ongoing) is photographed at twilight, a time of transition from day to night, the sense of being on the edge, or brink of something is heightened. The work is a fiction, a reconstruction of an imagined scene, but it is also one that is grounded in reality and is informed by Pye's research into news and police reports detailing the types of clothing and items found. The bible and the folded clothes are objects that have strong symbolic value linked to social rituals, and suggest a recent departure which, given the context of the entire project, is one of someone who will not return.
Luminance in Flux, a series of 5 images is a personal response to being up on Beachy Head at night and sensing the landscape at times to feel otherworldly. The physical creation of light moving through the ominous coastline symbolises a ghostly absence, questioning how we respond to illusions of ethereal presence and our fascination with the supernatural.
Wendy is a photography lecturer and photographic artist. She graduated from The MA in Photographic Arts at The London College of Communication, London in 2009. She set up Tri-pod Project Development Group with Miranda Gavin in 2010.
The images were captured with a medium format film 67 camera , 54 large format camera & 35mm Digital SLR.