Big Fence / Pitcairn Island

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Blow Up Press, 2021. Edition of 800 copies. Hardcover with double spine and a pocket, 312 pp., 124 illustrations, 6 inserts, 205 x 255 mm. Photographs by Rhiannon Adam. Text by Gem Fletcher, Rhiannon Adam (English). Design by Aneta Kowalczyk.

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"It will take you a long weekend to come to terms with this multi-part book, but it's worth it. Rhiannon Adam spent 96 nights on the remote Pitcairn Islands, Britain's last Overseas Territory in the Pacific Ocean. Away from the eyes of the world, an appalling abuse scandal engulfed the place in recent years Adam pieces it together in images and words, half poet, half detective, placing the troubling present in the long history of empire and control." David Campany in Photo Eye's 2023 Favorite Photobooks

"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." Michael Honegger in

The Pitcairn Islands are Britain’s last Overseas Territory in the Pacific Ocean. Pitcairn Island itself (25°40S, 130°60W) 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. 

Read more:

Fisheye Magazine, huck Magazine, Lenscratch

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