Jersey – New Jersey is a transoceanic photography project by Martin Toft in collaboration with Archisle: The Jersey Contemporary Photography Programme. The island of Jersey, part of the Channel Islands Archipelago is a British Crown Dependency located in the Bay of St Malo in the English Channel. Jersey’s unique British Norman culture stems from the island being part of the Duchy of Normandy until 1204 it was lost to France by the English Crown under the reign of King John. In return for maintaining their allegiance to England the monarchy granted the Channel Islands the right of self-government.
Located in the Bay of St Malo the island is protected by the peninsulas of Brittany to the south and Cornwall to the north. While the Channel Islands owe their cultural identity to forces located on either side of the English Channel, insular experiences are strongly influenced by the presence of the Atlantic Ocean. The view out over this vast oceanic space imagined by islanders looking westward, uninterrupted by landfall before the coast of North America, set against the island’s tiny geography exerts its own powerful force. It is to this cultural and historical force that photographer Martin Toft responds in this project. It was the force of politics and civil war in England that led to Sir George Carteret (1609-80), arguably Jersey’s most famous mariner, transmitting the island’s name 3500 miles across the Atlantic to the American State that now bears its name. In return for Carteret’s ardent support of the royalist cause during the English Civil War, James, Duke of York granted to him a large tract of land on the Eastern Seaboard of North America in 1664. Carteret named it New Jersey.
Prompted in part by the 350th anniversary of the naming of New Jersey in 2014 to ask how two places that share a name on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean perceive each other within archives and cultural memory, Toft uses social documentary, anthropological and fine art techniques to tell a transoceanic story in which estranged lands of incomparable scale come together in poetic gestures that ask: what’s in a name?