A recent email from Canon directed me to the work of a Merseyside hairdresser call Stephen McNally. I should stress that it was his photography not his tonsorial creations that I was viewing and what inspirational images he produces; using long exposure techniques to smooth out the movements of tide, and blur wind-blown clouds into dynamic streaks. If you’re interested in seeing his work the video I saw is here. It was enough to inspire me to rise early in the hope of capturing something similar on the coastline where I used to live.
The pier and lighthouse at Roker have been the subject of a £1.35m restoration project over the last three years so I wanted to use the now pristine light as the subject with the effects of the long exposure providing the background. I was doubly thwarted. A recent storm had revealed a flaw in all that renovation with 100m of railings swept away resulting in closure to the public, and what’s more the sky was so cloudy that there were no gaps to create any sort of interest in the scene.
The previous day I’d listened to an edition of The Infinite Monkey Cage celebrating the need for science to constantly fail in order to learn and progress, and so I was determined to capture something from the trip. As this shot of the Bede Cross shows I was never going to have enough drama in the sky to emulate Mr McNally so I resolved to make use of the lighthouse but from a different vantage point; the cliff tops.
The Genoa lanterna, St Mary’s and now Roker Pier. It’s early in the year and already I’ve photographed three lighthouses. Looking back through the blog and there have been others here too; Orford Ness, Longstone, Coquet Island. These structures have a great deal of appeal, and not just to me. The gallery hosting site ViewBug regularly has challenges and contests for images of lighthouses, and of course there is a huge variety to be found around the globe.
Perhaps it’s the verticality of the tower in stark contrast to the horizontal horizon that is provided by the sea; a straight line that is rarely seen when so many of us live in cities. Maybe its the dichotomy that these solitary structures are built to reach out and communicate to distant travellers.
Some have postulated that for we Brits, an island nation, would have a special affinity with the lighthouse that cares for the shipping that is the lifeblood of our international trade. They’ve provided inspiration for other artists too whether Constable’s paints or Woolf’s ink.
Perhaps there’s something else that attracts us; a sense of impermanence. Though the structures themselves are by their very nature robust enough to take the worst that Neptune can deal them, they no longer have lighthouse keepers to tend them; automation put paid to that. Many, like St Mary’s, have no light to shine; who needs a light when you have access to satellites? For now local authorities, volunteer groups and organisations like the National Trust maintain these pointers to our naval history, but for how long I wonder?