A Photographic Exploration of Botswana

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Untitled, SWAMP© Chloe Sells

We step inside the pages of artist and photographer Chloe Sells' oneiric new book, an irresistibly vivid ode to the country's wilderness

To label the images that artist Chloe Sells creates as mere photographs almost seems to do them a disservice. They are bright, disorientating and fantastical, awash with impossible textures in unexplainably vivid hues, and almost map-like in their abstract representation of faraway places – a comparison which is particularly appropriate given the artist’s preoccupation with the unique qualities of places. “The texture of landscape and how it shapes experience and identity is at the heart of my work,” she tells AnOther. “I am inspired by the natural environment, by the complexity of the wild and the interdependent nature of living things. While many thriving places can be described as 'the wild', in my case, I am most interested in depicting open, untouched wilderness.”

Indeed, the wilderness is a recognisable entity in her newest project, SWAMP, a book which is intended to recreate the sense of exploration depicted within it. Sells is based between the African country of Botswana, where she takes her photographs, and London, where she processes them – a pairing which reveals itself in unexpected ways through her work. “I have lived in Botswana for 15 years, but I am not originally from there, and I find the process of making art there important for my ever deepening understanding of the country,” Sells explains. “The bush is paramount to understanding the culture, history and the way of life in Botswana. My photographs and most of my drawings are made there, and my darkroom is in London.” The liminal space which exists between these two geographical locations creates a kind of tension in her photography, Sells continues, which is “between experience and memory. The discrepancies that come about as a result of time passing and the inevitable change between these places result in pictures that show a layering of occurrences.”

The richness of the resulting images is due in part to Sells’ technique, too: the artist shoots everything herself on medium and large-format film, and prints it in the darkroom, she explains, so all of her prints are unique. Of these, two different types comprise SWAMP: fragments, “which represent the exploratory and experimental aspect of my practice,” and smaller contact prints of pictures from the Okavango Delta in Botswana, which have been drawn into by hand, and which “are intimate portraits of aspects of the bush.” Together, this combination paints a dreamlike image of Botswana’s sprawling landscapes – one that her viewer can’t help but allow themselves to be absorbed into. And this, aptly, is exactly the artist’s intention. “I hope that the viewers are able to have an immersive and vivid experience," she surmises. "To take a journey into the unknown.”

Chloe Sells, SWAMP is out now, published by GOST Books. A new exhibition of work, entitled Under the Sun, is on display at Julie Saul in NewYork until June 11, 2016.