Victim of Prejudice

The town of Blyth has a long history, going back at least as far as the 12th century. Finds from the Neolithic era have been found nearby, though that in itself is no evidence of a settlement.  All the same it should be exactly the sort of place that appeals to me, especially when you add in the fact that it’s located on the beautiful Northumbrian coast.  Yet whenever I’ve been on that coast I’ve always felt it best to keep heading north away from Blyth.

The town was quite prosperous from the 18th century onwards with a range of trade and industry that included shipbuilding, coal mining, fishing, salt and railways.  And there you see the first hint of a problem.  Though these have all been vital contributors to the economy in their time, that time is firmly in the past, at least as far as the UK is concerned.  Shipbuilding and coal were both casualties of the Thatcher years, fishing has been hit by dwindling stocks resulting in EU quotas (watch this space one Brexit kicks in), we’re all trying to cut back on our salt intake, and if there were ever two words guaranteed to lead to a joke in the 70’s and 80’s it was British Rail.  In short, Blyth has long seen economic decline, and for many years was known for having one of the worst drug problems in the UK.

The town’s tourist website has little more to offer than the facts in the previous couple of paragraphs, so when I had to visit to collect an eBay purchase I had no real subject in mind.  That meant I had to play safe and head for the coast where some long exposure photography was bound to bring results.

The multiple groynes that prevent the erosion of the beautiful sandy beach were one option, the long shot down towards St Mary’s to the south gave another, but that’s a lighthouse that we’ve already covered here so best look north where there’s a new lighthouse to add to the collection at the end of a pretty intriguing pier whose latticework topping gives it a unique aspect.  This is the East Pier, a continuation of a spit of land that runs from north of the River Blyth’s mouth and provides the protection that made this such a busy port.

There’s another lighthouse in town, one of a pair of “high/low lights” similar to those at North Shields, though there’s no light left, just the tower.

Which makes it very frustrating that any references I can find to Blyth lighthouse always take me to that structure rather than the one in these pictures which was built in 1907.

Looks like I’ll have to overcome my prejudice and come back to find out more for myself!

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Sand and Sea (and a Little Spell of Sunshine) (SOS)

Beach holiday or city break?

One of the decisions that any travel agent might require of a prospective client, but for the indecisive Barcelona is the obvious solution.

Most great European cities have a connection to the sea, but few are as close as Barcelona.  London makes do with the mighty Thames.

Historically Ancient Rome relied on nearby Ostia.  The Greeks tried to feel closer to Piraeus by building long curtain walls to bridge the gap.

Nowadays Paris pretends to be a seaside resort each summer with the creation of the Paris-Plages where sand, palm-trees and more are imported for some very popular set-dressing._PW_0372

Barcelona has no need of such artifice, having the real thing in abundance.  On the morning of my arrival it was deserted, but then it was late October and raining heavily so that when a squadron of Segways arrived their ponchos created a uniformity suggesting something closer to an expeditionary force than a group of sightseers._PW_0366

The sun was already breaking through by then so I hung around while waiting for the Montjuic cable car to open.  I was soon rewarded with bright sunshine and soaring temperatures.  Barcelonetta, the name of the beach area, didn’t stay deserted for long, though most of the other visitors had a direct flight!

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Returning to the Scene of the Crime

I wasn’t sure what to call this post – “clinging to the wreckage”, “penal solitude””epilogue” “heart of darkness” and more occurred, but let me explain why.  A while ago I blogged about an unsatisfactory visit to Saltwick Bay, but what I revealed in that post was only part of the story.

For the last couple of years J has been a huge part of my life; at various times my friend, lover, confidant, adviser, inspiration and so much more.  I’ve never known anyone like her, but on the day of that visit to Saltwick a series of events began that ultimately ended our relationship.  I’d gone there on the day for some thinking time but one of the unhelpful factors was the fact that in my journeying to and fro over the North Yorkshire Moors, and while I was there I had no phone signal.  I’m not going to share the grisly details, but suffice to say, no matter how important we were to each other we were unable to find a way to deal with the less winning aspects of our personalities (mainly mine) and that lack of communication didn’t help.

So faced with an unwelcome amount of freedom this weekend I returned to do what I didn’t do on that day, take my time over capturing something worthwhile.  Ironic when I’d just lost something so much more worthwhile.

_PW_2703-EditMy favourite time for photography on the North Sea coast is sunrise, and whilst that comes later at this time of year, the need to drive for 75 minutes, descend the cliffs and then navigate my way to my objective made it an early start.  The moon took pity on me and provided some illumination, but I was glad of my head torch as I reached the more muddy and slippery stretches of the path down the cliffside.

I almost tripped over the corpse at the foot of the steps.  Washed out and swollen, it’s greyness  allowing it to blend perfectly with the rocks that marked the beginning of the beach.  The large seal whose flesh I photographed last time had been washed about 100 yards further north in the intervening weeks and the wound in its throat had grown to the point of decapitation but I’m sure it was the same cadaver.  Time to get moving.

I knew that the tide had just turned and was making its way out so I wasn’t at risk of being cut off, but being unfamiliar with the area I didn’t know how great an impact it would have on me heading south to find the wreck in that picture from the unknown photographer.

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I grabbed a couple (yeah right) of shots of Black Nab and then set about dealing with the fact that my objective was still out of easy reach.  There was a gap between the waves and the cliffs, but it was a gap strewn with boulders from the cliffs above.  Boulders slick with seawater, lubed with algae, carpeted with kelp and rocking under the nervous steps of a photographer picking his way with all of the grace of a pig on castors.  In my need to avoid damage to camera and tripod I wedged my feet into cracks, hoping that I wouldn’t end up turning an ankle.  (Make that a giraffe on castors).

With no one aware of my trip that missing mobile reception haunted me again.  The boulders were easier to negotiate nearer the cliff, but after a day of heavy rain these were perfect conditions for further rockfalls.     The Buff I was wearing to protect my ears from near zero temperatures and strong winds no longer seemed adequate.  I mention this because yesterday I heard a radio play based on the writings of Emile Zola in which an artist’s obsession with creating a masterpiece lead to the death of his son, his own suicide and the insanity of his partner.  I felt I’d lost enough this week already.

Eventually I crossed the divide and reached a shelf of flat stone.  Tempting to gain momentum, but even more slippery than the boulders and so I continued slowly.  As a consequence I reached my goal after the sun had risen, but it was still partly submerged so I was never going to create anything as striking as the image that inspired me in the first place.

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Caught Nabbing

I’m sure it happens to plenty of photographers.  You happen upon an interesting location.  You weigh up the possibilities and make decisions about angle, composition, exposure, depth of field, and more.

The image on the back of the camera looks acceptable so you move on, but then you upload it for processing and find something on your computer screen that is just…

Underwhelming.

You reach for your creative skills in Lightroom or Photoshop to try to give it some hint of atmosphere, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.  You knew the scene had potential, but you didn’t quite find it.

And then you stumble across the work of someone else who did!

New Zealand photographer Tinasch shot this perfectly acceptable image of a boathouse in Bavaria,tinasch but I wonder if she has seen what a Croation called Mladen achieved on a rainier day.archangel

I mention this because I recently visited Saltwick Bay for a bit of seaside solitude and shot a few images along the way.  It’s a popular spot for photographers in mid-summer for it has a unique aspect that means both sunrise and sunset can be shot over the sea at that time of year.  Add in the topography of Saltwick Nab to the north and the submarine conning tower of Black Nab to the south and you have the compositional elements to make a great shot.

Of course on a fairly flat October day it was a different story, though perhaps it was my response that was the problem.  Either way I shot Black Nab from a few different spots using both long and short exposures without much of a sense of achievement.

And then I saw this shot of the remains of the Admiral Von Tromp on ViewBug.  It isn’t even credited to the photographer who shot it so I can’t sing his praises (though I would have cropped some of the foreground I think).uncredited Saltwick Sunset

If I’d tried shooting the outcrop from the south I’d have found the wreck too and would have been overjoyed at the possibilities.

I think that’s what they call a kick-self moment.

Still, it gives me a good excuse to go back!_PW_9007-Edit-Edit-Edit-Edit

 

Public Image

This is me._PW_7190

The one on the right.

If you’ve known me for a while you’ll know that I’ve been lucky enough not to change too much with the passage of time.

The hair grows slightly thinner. The hairline eases further back. The few grey hairs multiply, but only slowly.

My skin is losing its elasticity. There are more lines around my eyes. My muscle tone jumped ship a while ago (though I keep promising myself that I’ll track it down again).

The length of my hair fluctuates in between visits to the stylist, and as it does so does the volume of curls, but it’s not really noticeable. My weight (and waist measurement) wax and wane throughout the year, but there’s never more than a few pounds in it.

In the two and a half years that I’ve known J she has also changed very little; with one notable exception. Her hair.

As our first encounters were online I was reliant upon her sharing pictures and the most recent ones showed her with shoulder length blond hair, a feature accentuated by the yellow tint of the pictures caused by tungsten lighting.

I knew however that her natural colour was a redder hue and by the time we met this was already reasserting itself and so the last couple of years have seen subtle oscillations between copper and caramel, but her style has been largely unchanged except for the occasional appearance of extensions on special occasions.

Last weekend she opted for something darker, a rich mahogany but still with striking red overtones.

Now I love to photograph red hair. Red hair and good light are a match made in heaven, so last weekend I shot hundreds of images of her. The luscious greenery along the banks of the Tees provided a strong colour contrast. The windows of her car provided backlighting. The pebbles on Seaham beach gave a more neutral canvas.

She hated them. The change had been just too dramatic. A change of style with the inclusion of a fringe, as well as the much darker colour was a look that she didn’t identify with and it seems others felt the same way. I was banned from publishing any of them!  Oh, what the hell…

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It’s strange that one feature of our appearance can be so dominant. Her smile was just as engaging, her blue eyes just as striking. She was still tall and slim yet giving her face a different frame was too much.

Luckily at Seaham I still had the sea to photograph and share with you. It even obliged me with some coppery highlights!

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A Dog’s Life?

It couldn’t last could it?

Many of the images I’ve posted from English coastal locations this summer have benefited from blue skies and sunshine.  Even those where the skies were overcast were at least free of precipitation.  Whatever happened to the fabled English summer?

There was however a sting in the tail when the last weekend of the school holiday arrived.

With little more than a picnic lunch and short dog walk planned, my friend Jane and I visited Crimdon, on the Durham Coast, to take advantage of its canine friendly sands.  We had just parked when it began to rain from what seemed to be our own personal micro-climate.  Looking around us there were plenty of patches of brightness in the heavens, but directly above us was a large dark grey cloud that was intent on making its presence felt.  Picnic in the car then.

The rain passed quickly however, and so grabbing a small umbrella we descended the steps and duckboards leading over the dunes to the extensive shoreline beyond.APW_6454_5_6

Taking the opportunity to allow Saffy, J’s Yorkshire Terrier, off her leash to trot ahead of us, we walked south to where a group of three Border Collies were enjoying the competition of retrieving a bottle from the waves, and providing me with the inevitable photo opportunity as they mimicked the undulations of the water.

That’s when the second dark cloud struck, and not just with rain.  With torrential rain.  And wind.

Being already saturated the collies were unperturbed, but we began to struggle with the inadequate protection of my small brolly.  As we did so Saffy saw the chance to express her disgust and took off to the opposite end of the beach.

While we discussed who was to give chase, how to protect my equipment, and the predicament of Jane’s increasingly transparent trousers, Saffy extended her head start.

Note to self.  If you’re going to lose a small dog whose colouring is a blend of grey and sandy hues, a beach with patches of coal dust is not the place to do it.

By the time I reunited her with her lead I was soaked.

Now isn’t that how summer should be?APW_6530-2

Another Look

I’ve gone coast to coast, just to contemplate

Joni Mitchell – Blue Motel Room

No sooner had I basked in the Sandsend sunshine than it was time for me to return to Bootle, where the nearest interesting stretch of sand is to be found at Crosby, the beach where Antony Gormley’s work Another Place stands embedded in the sand.APW_6327

I’ve blogged about this location twice before, but I find the place absolutely compelling and for a variety of reasons.

This is the same stretch of sand that fronts the dunes at Formby, though a few miles further south, and whether due to the sheer expanse of this coast, or the challenges of access here (there’s a walk from the car park that passes a park, play area and leisure lake so there are easier options than the beach) the shoreline never seems to be very busy.  Attractive if you enjoy having plenty of space to exercise your dog or its owner.

For others the proximity of the shipping approaching the port of Liverpool provides the interest; the world’s first commercial dock is still one of the UK’s busiest.  Add in a backdrop of wind turbines and you have an industrialist’s wet dream.

But for me the Gormley figures are the attraction.  One hundred cast iron figures, identical but for an identifying wrist band,  stand facing out to sea, but being spread over a two-mile stretch of coastline they are sparse, with no more than three or four ever in your field of vision.  Even then the fact that they are at different distances from the water allows perspective to resize them, thus giving them greater individuality.  Each of the hundred seems to stand alone, gazing out over the undulations of sand and water and creating a surprising sense of isolation.

APW_6334The sea too plays a part in giving each an individual feel, decorating them with barnacles, weeds and a patina of corrosion that affects no two in the same way.  The sea may also be the culprit for the fact that some of the figures are partly buried in the shifting sands… though there may be another explanation!

Gormley is one of Britain’s leading artists, but his reputation hasn’t been gained through press controversy like some of his contemporaries.  Of the three works I’ve come close to (Domain Field and The Angel of the North being the others) he demonstrates an ability to connect with humanity using cold steel.  This was my third visit to Another Place.  I doubt it will be my last.

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A few days after posting this item I came across this programme which describes the history of this artwork and the reactions of the people of the area to their installation… BBC Radio documentary about the artwork