Bongin Bongin is an aboriginal name, meaning “many shells”. And it is the name of a bay in northern Sydney, Australia, where David Helsham swims every morning, all year round, with a group of friends.

The bay and its surroundings provide the raw material for this magical series of diptychs: Helsham has photographed a small area of the beach and the ocean over several years. In Bongin Bongin, he juxtaposes found objects he discovered on the beach – from discarded toys, to shoes, to skulls – with views of the bay in all weathers and seasons.

Central to the landscape photographs is the man-made rock pool surrounded by railings, which is re-filled by the ocean each day. Helsham describes the pool, “just at the end of the spit of sand, with its ever-faithful and constant companion, the light”. The rock pool we see in the photos almost has its own personality – it’s stranded in sand, inundated by the ocean, surrounded by people, buffeted by waves, and then tranquil, empty and floodlit at night. The addition of the quirky found objects adds another dimension to the photographs, giving us a deeper insight into the life of the beach. There are broken pieces of watersports equipment and comic grinning toys, along with the shells of dead sea creatures, mysterious plants, and even a venomous-looking jellyfish.

The titles of Helsham’s images help us connect these diverse ideas – a crashing wave is combined with a flattened can in “Crushed”, a sunny day on the sand is shown next to a bright orange, smiling toy in “Beautiful Grin”.

These playful diptychs of daily life at an Australian beach are a breath of fresh air — and a beam of sunshine — for those of us enduring a Northern hemisphere winter. Enjoy!


Editor’s Note: David Helsham was an entrant in the 2009 Lens Culture International Exposure Awards. Although the jury didn’t award him a prize, LensCulture loved the work and so we are delighted to feature the whole portfolio.

David Helsham’s book, Bongin Bongin was published by Blurb in 2010.