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. 1
About the Artist
Rhiannon Adam was born in Co. Cork, Ireland and was educated at Central Saint Martins college of Art and Design (London), and at the University of Cambridge. She is currently based in London. Adam’s work is heavily influenced by her nomadic childhood spent at sea, sailing around the world with her parents. Little photographic evidence of this period in her life exists, igniting an interest in the influence of photography on recall, the notion of the photograph as a physical object, and the image as an intersection between fact and fiction – themes that continue throughout her work. Her long-term projects straddle art photography and social documentary, while subject matter is often focused on narratives relating to myth, loneliness, and the passage of time. The results of these explorations are captured almost exclusively in ambient light through the hazy abstraction of degrading instant-film materials and colour negative film, and are often contrasted with the stark reality of archive material. 2
About the Publisher
Established in 2012, BLOW UP PRESS (BUP) is a family run publisher of photobooks and lens-based art books. Originally online publisher, BUP switched to paper in 2016. Since then it has become a recognisable producer of sophistically designed books dealing with thought-provoking topics, following the motto When the story matters. BUP collaborates with emerging and established photographers from around the world. Next to the books, BUP also publishes doc! photo magazine dedicated to contemporary photography. Since 2020, BUP organises annual contest BUP Book Award which goal is to promote photobooks as a way of communicate important subjects. 3