Môrwelion / The Sea Horizon | National Museum Cardiff

This set of photographs are all square format seascapes, neatly bisected by the horizon line. There are 40 in all, identically sized, shot from exactly the same place by Garry Fabian Miller, exhibited together in a large room at the National Museum in Cardiff.

At first, I’d assumed they were derivative of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s much-more-famous Seascapes series - which are also deliberately minimal photos of the horizon out to sea, varying only by the weather and the time of day. They look almost identical. But in fact Miller shot these as a 19-year-old, on the roof of his home near Bristol, looking out towards the Welsh coast. It was 1976, four years before the Japanese master got started.

Garry Fabian Miller ‘The Sea Horizon, No. 18’ (1976-77) The Sea Horizon, No. 18 (1976-77)

Sugimoto’s global project gets shown in much fancier galleries in global cities. He’s represented by PACE in New York; Miller’s making do with a retrospective at the Arnolfini in Bristol later this year, as well as the Cardiff show.

There’s no question of copying. Much more likely, the two artists are following the fascination so many of their peers have with the effects of light on water. Here, cloudy and choppy; there, sun-streaked and smooth. Miller eventually moved on to ‘camera-less’ photographs exposed only in the dark-room; these days, his blurry horizon lines look more like Rothkos, but are still recognisable as seascapes.

The division of water and sky is endlessly fascinating, then, particularly to artists. The point’s proven a few rooms over at the museum in Cardiff, with a pair of Monets. Both are views of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. One depicts the lagoon at twilight, the sky golden and sharp. The other’s in a misty, vanilla-streaked dawn. In both, the light plays on the water, mysteriously, in different ways. After you stare into the water, your eye naturally travels upwards - to the horizon line.

Môrwelion / The Sea Horizon is at the National Museum (Cardiff). 18 February - 10 September 2023