The sole picture of Seaton Sluice in my recent Flying North post attracted positive comment for the deep blue reflected in the cold North Sea waters that morning, so it seems perverse of me that on revisiting the tiny harbour I should shoot in monochrome – sorry Myriam!
In an interview that I heard recently David Bailey explained that he shoots black and white because it has a more immediate impact. Describing the way birds are attracted to red berries, he explains how colour carries so many meanings and messages that it distracts from the subject matter. Having moved on from “shooting frocks” in the 1980’s he now concentrates on portraiture, and in that sphere I completely agree with him. Portraits are about character and expression, the lines and textures that tell a life story, and in this context colour has no part to play.
A land or seascape are different however; there is nothing to beat the subtle hues of a winter sunrise or the dirty yellow of a snow filled sky, and of course as children our early artworks were often set against verdant green grass and deep blue skies. Shooting these scenes in monochrome presents entirely different challenges; requiring some drama or interest in the picture beyond the stimulation of colour. (Some subjects of course can’t be properly treated any other way!)
So to Seaton Sluice, a tiny harbour that took its name from the fact that in the 17th Century, local landowner Ralph Delaval installed walls, piers and sluice gates in an attempt to create a port that would wash itself free of the build up of sand and silt. Ingenious, but it wasn’t entirely successful and in the following century his descendants built a new channel through solid rock and created a tiny port that could handle the output of 30 nearby coal mines, making it one of the most important on the North East coast.
Those days have long since passed, the mines have closed, the ships have left and there is no need of the ancillary trades that support a busy port so now you could drive through Seaton Sluice on the way to Blyth without really noticing the tiny gem on the shoreline.
So back to the pictures. If I’m honest, I think I’ll save the black and white for portraits. I’m no David Bailey, but I’m no Ansel Adams either!