chapter  6
16 Pages

Seeing through water: the paintings of Zarh Pritchard

WithMARGARET COHEN

Technologies enable new modes of perception, which catalyze the imagination and inspire the arts. A vivid case study of this process is the transformation of the underwater imaginary, after the underwater environment became a frontier of modernity in the second half of the nineteenth century. For centuries, this inaccessible part of the planet was imagined as a realm of death and destruction, with flashes of beauty and treasure rewarding those lucky enough to avoid its shoals. The nightmare of Clarence in Shakespeare’s Richard III expresses a long-standing fantasy of the submarine depths: “Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks; / Ten thousand men that fishes gnaw’d upon,” and scattered on “the slimy bottom of the deep” along with “dead bones”: “Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl, / Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels.” 1 But as the depths started to be explored, observed, and exhibited on land, the physical conditions and biology under the sea gave rise to new and, in some cases, very different figures of thought. 2 These figures of thought are what might be called fantasyscapes, where observation of environment organizes the presentation of space, time, emotion and kinds of rhetoric and mood.