The photographer Maryanne Gobble was born and raised in Oregon, and she believes in the healing properties of the sea. Whenever she’s been separated from the coast, she’s felt drawn to water wherever she could find it. Many of her photographs from the years 2011 through 2017 depict people in nature; rendered mostly in rich blacks and whites, they make us yearn for places that are truly wild and untouched.
For three years, Gobble lived in Denver, where she suffered from altitude-induced depression. During this time, the artist felt an acute longing for the sea, and she spent untold hours searching for somewhere to move. “I started looking at a map for cities near a body of water, easy access to the outdoors, and preferably a smaller town,” she tells us. “I would stay up at night frantically looking at the map over and over and over.”
“Florida was the one state I had avoided in my search,” the artist admits. “I imagined it as full of condos and dirty beaches, but then I decided to look for National Seashore areas on the map, and that changed everything. I found a small town on a peninsula surrounded by National Seashore protected beaches and forests.”
Finally, last year, Gobble and her family relocated to the Pensacola area. She’s the first to admit that her work is different now; she sees the world in color—deep blues and golden reds—and she’s mastered cinematography. Like the changing tides, Gobble has adapted to her surroundings, and beneath the waves, she’s discovered something glittering and new.
Today, we might feel tempted to laugh at the 18th-century idea that sea water and sea air could help soothe what ails us, but perhaps those Victorian doctors were onto something. Recent studies and books suggest that being near water can, in fact, lead to a greater sense of calm and wellbeing. One successful Manhattan therapist believes in the healing effects of water so thoroughly that he takes some of his clients on walks around the reservoir in Central Park.
We asked Gobble to tell us about how her move to the shore has influenced her daily life as well as her artistic practice.
You’re relatively new to Florida, but you’ve always had close ties with the sea.
“When people hear I’m from the Oregon Coast, they often ask if it’s like the 1980s movie The Goonies. I suppose that’s where my childhood really starts. My parents’ first house in Astoria later became the filming location for that movie, thus setting the mood for my childhood. I’ve looked for ‘treasure’ on the beach, played in an old shipwreck, and spent way too many days in the soggy rain.”
What are some of your most powerful memories from the West Coast?
“I moved to Brookings on the opposite end of the Oregon Coast when I was six and, as an adult, I used to walk along my favorite beach photographing, as seals quietly ducked and swam along beside me. There are reasons I stopped going home. Difficult reasons. One day, the full grief of it hit me, and my husband found me sobbing in bed. He knew I was mourning a loss; it was expected. But what he did not expect was to hear me wail through my tears, ‘The seals, what if they miss me?’ At night I would dream about them and wake up so homesick. Only when I moved to Florida did the dreams stop.”
What does the Florida panhandle offer that no other place has offered you, especially in terms of the nature here?
“The panhandle beaches are light and airy. The quartz sand is like sugar, and the water is absolutely healing to swim in. I’ve had a lot of darkness my life, and moving here felt like a shift into the light.”
Pensacola Beach is home to a variety of sea turtle species, including some endangered ones. What have your encounters with sea turtles been like?
“The first time my family encountered a turtle while swimming, we only had one snorkel mask to share. We took turns passing it around and diving under the water for a look. Turtles have a permanent frown and look so unimpressed with humans; it makes them all the more endearing.”
Has the move affected your outlook or mood?
“I love the climate, and the biodiversity here is amazing. I’m still trying to learn all the plants and animals. It’s good to feel alive again. I’m realizing how much of life and art I’ve viewed as a struggle, and the lightness of living here has caused me some discomfort. It feels good but foreign... I feel guilty. I’m learning to trust in the goodness of life. I realize how privileged I am to pick up and move where I please. I never want to take that for granted.”
What kind of weather do you prefer for making these films? Sunshine, overcast skies, golden hour, all of the above?
“I love the color of the water at midday, the sky during thunderstorms, and the forest in the fog. I check the weather every morning, and if something looks interesting, I will often arrange my schedule around that.”
You mention solitude as one of the main themes in your work. Are you usually on your own? Do you have a specific destination in mind, or do you prefer to wander?
“These days, I often photograph alone. I have not been as structured as usual since I moved here, but I'm casting my net wide until I know this place better, and then I’m sure I will zero in on a project or two. I could never have too much time alone. My mind is very busy and I often suffer from severe sensory overload. I carve out this space for my sanity.
“I prefer to walk while filming. I’m terrified of stingrays and sharks, so I don’t swim alone unless other people are nearby. But I just got a GoPro so I can shoot in the water this summer. I would like to become more comfortable in the ocean.”
What is the most unexpected thing you’ve ever come across while exploring the beach?
“After Hurricane Michael, my husband and I went to the beach to see what washed up. We found an egg and immediately thought it must be an unhatched sea turtle. We panicked and buried it in the sand. Once we came to our senses and did a Google search, we realized we had just buried a chicken egg!”
In what ways has the transition to Florida pushed you out of your comfort zone and helped you grow as an artist?
“I’m learning to shoot in different ways, and that always runs the risk of creating boring work while I sort it out. I think I’m finally at a place I can embrace that without the fear that I’ll never have another good idea. I’ve always been a slow and deliberate shooter, and I’m trying to allow that be my strength.” ca