Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Perhaps it was a yearning for the healthy element in a week where I’m facing two separate medical appointments that drove me to rise at 5.00am, but it didn’t seem particularly wise and I don’t see anyone rushing to make me rich with my outputs from the day. Nevertheless I achieved some pleasing results as you’ll see.
The BBC are currently scheduling a series called The Big Painting Challenge; a variant of The Great British Bake Off for oils and water-colours rather than creme pat and biscuit dough. This week the contestants were in Hastings to take on the challenge of the constantly changing light of a seascape, my favourite subject though I don’t shoot them as often as I did in the early days of my photography.
The artist that judge Lachlan Goudie chose to highlight as master of the seascape was JMW Turner, precisely for his ability to work with light. Appropriate then that the location that necessitated my early start was also one that Turner painted; Dunstanburgh Castle. In sketches, watercolour and oils he approached it from a number of angles, but his Sunrise over Lilburn Tower is unmistakably Dunstanburgh, and the tower is also the feature of the castle that I chose to incorporate into my sunrise shots.
The challenges for a photographer working with seascapes are very different. Instead of responding to the multiple changes that occur during the time a painter must capture a scene, the photographer can freeze an instant up to 1/8000 of a second, but with the subdued light of dawn I was shooting longer exposures, and stretching them out further by adding filters as another barrier to illumination. Where I was disadvantaged compared to Turner was in his ability to recreate things from memory or return another day. For me if I missed the moment it was gone; I will be working again the following day, and memory has no place in photography other than in the card that records my digital files.
I was also very much restricted to one spot, for having clambered over the slippery black basalt boulders I couldn’t afford the time to make many adjustments for the sunrise is such an ephemeral phenomenon. As the tide crept in I was also aware of the gaps between those boulders filling with water.
I’d thought I’d have just the sea-snails for company but this is another of those shots that are almost a cliché for photographers… which is why there were four other tripods dotted about the rocks before the sun had reached the horizon. Well cliché or not I was committed after a journey of 90 minutes to get here.
The place has a bit of history too of course, a 14th century castle built on the site of an iron-age hill fort, but the toings and froings of the War of the Roses, when Yorkists and Lancastrians constantly besieged the castle meant it was already a ruin by the end of the 16th century. A pretty dramatic ruin for all that.