Sharks, Death, Surfers
An Illustrated Companion
152 pp., 5 x 7 in, 20 color illus., 3 b&w illus.
- Published: June 18, 2019
How sharks have been depicted over centuries and across cultures—and what sharks see when they look back.
We encounter the world through surfaces: the screen, the page, our skin, the ocean's swell. Here on the sea is the surfer, positioned at the edge of the collapsing wave. And lurking underneath in a monstrous mirroring is the shark. When the two meet, carving along the surface, breaking through the boundary, death appears.
Steering her analysis from the newspaper obituary through literature and past cinema, Melissa McCarthy investigates a fundamental aspect of the human condition: our state of being between life and death, always in precarious and watery balance. Sharks, Death, Surfers observes how sharks have been depicted over centuries and across cultures, then flips the lens (and dissects the cornea) to consider what sharks see when they look back.
These refracted lines of inquiry—optical, philosophical, historical—converge at the focal point where we can fix the image of the surfer and the shark. This is the picture McCarthy frames: the cartilaginous companions gliding together in a perfect model of how to read, navigate, and exist.
Sharks, Death, Surfers is a beautiful art object, petite and strange, replete with artist renderings of sharks that span the ages, from 750 BCE to the cover of Jaws.
She connects the disparate narratives through concepts that are central to surfing and inherent to sharks: balance, slippage, steering, lurking, vision, light, shadows, misdirection. The method is effectively disorienting, pulling the reader into sudden, unexpected points of connection.