Adventures in Modern Photography Part II

So what’s so special about Port Mulgrave that I should risk life and limb to reach it? (An exaggeration I know, but I could easily have turned back.)  That’s a question that would have been very easy to answer 150 years ago when the little port was a very different place to now, as can be seen from this old image.

In the mid 19th Century, local landowner Sir Charles Palmer began mining for ironstone on his land (this being the same area as the workings I visited a couple of years back).  With that mine being so close to the coast he very quickly established a complex of ramps, piers and staithes that enabled him to load the ore straight onto waiting ships.  Archive images show at least four could be loaded at any one time and so the port soon became a very busy establishment.  Fifty years or so later and it was redundant as deposits were worked out and a more productive mine was established that could ship its output from the much larger port of Whitby nearby.

The entrance to the mine, now sealed up for safety, is still visible behind some of the vegetation that gave me so much trouble getting onto the beach, but there’s little evidence of the rest of the workings.  The northern pier was deliberately blown up by the army in WWII as a barrier to German invasion; the southern pier has fallen prey to natural forces.  Even so the fragments make for some interesting marine photographs, as do the rusting engines scattered amongst the rubble; this is a coastline with wrecks aplenty, including of course the Admiral Von Tromp further south at Saltwick Bay.

No, the real attractions of Port Mulgrave were onshore.  Beyond the high water mark is a remarkable collection of fishermen’s shacks which show off a great deal of creativity on the part of their owners.  They do raise a question however.  Since none of the boats dotted about on the beach actually looked seaworthy, what do the owners of these boltholes come here for?  The challenge of maintenance?  An escape from home?  A place for male bonding?

Most visitors come here for another reason (though I had the place to myself when I was there) and one that doesn’t immediately become apparent.  I often photograph the coloured patterns and random juxtapositions of rocks at the coast, and there was plenty here to stimulate.  Look more closely at those patterns and it becomes clear that they are not so random after all; they are the product of evolutionary and geological forces that have been at work for millions of years.  Port Mulgrave is a leading beach for finding fossils, and arguably the best in North Yorkshire.  I’m no fossil hunter but once I started looking more closely at the broken shales I found more and more interesting geology.

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Finally in answer to the other question I posed yesterday…



“A little bit special…”

Street portraiture is a hit or miss affair.  Either your subject is comfortable and willing to proceed or they’re not, and in the latter case why would a complete stranger persuade you otherwise?  Yes, there are probably some silver-tongued charmers out there who would push just to get the picture, but underlying my approach is a longer term view.  If my subject is happy with the process (and the eventual outcome) then they might just come back to me when they need a photographer in future.

Today’s subject is a bit different.  I’ve known her for a few years because she is a colleague of my hairdresser, so not a close relationship but the ice has long been broken.  She’s an obvious choice for a beauty portrait for her dark hair (of whatever hue she chooses this month!) frames a pair of brown eyes so dark and sparkling that they are like highly polished precious stones.

Clearly I had to include her in this portrait a day project, but here is the challenge.  She really doesn’t enjoy having her photograph taken.

This is a common feeling, but unlike working with complete strangers I’ve been able to plant the seed in good time, suggesting that I photograph her the next time I was in for a haircut. Her colleague Julie added her backing so there was no backing out.

Last Friday the day arrived, and I took her to the rear of the premises to shade her from the harsh light, and thinking that she might feel less self-conscious away from Julie.  There’s a lesson here for those who feel uncomfortable with being photographed – trust the photographer!  Although uncomfortable with the process she followed my directions until she spotted Julie at the window at which point the nervousness erupted into laughter.

English: Jade, an ornamental stone. White and ...

In all I shot 7 version of the same pose within a couple of minutes.  Hopefully not too much of a hardship for her.  Joking in the salon later, she was able to see the funny side, and we talked about suitable titles for today’s blog; “a little bit special” or “precious”, not out of any vanity on her part, but because her name is Jade, so it was the highly prized ornamental stone that we were talking about.  (Actually stones would be a better noun, since there are actually two geologically different rocks that were assumed for centuries to be variations of the same green material).

So was the moment of discomfort worth it?  Ultimately Jade must be the judge but I’m very happy with the result.  Her eyes may not be jade green, but you wouldn’t change them.  The background colour will do nicely though.