Location, Location, Location

I’ve long had a hankering to shoot in a derelict building; abandoned furniture and equipment, cracked paint, peeling wall coverings, cobwebs, dust and decay.  Contrast comes in many forms, and as a backdrop to a beautiful subject some form of atrophy will do nicely.  There is a movement in the UK of people committed to entering abandoned hospitals, asylums, and industrial units to take advantage of just such decline.

Today I had my chance.  Not in a public building.  Not in commercial premises.  This was a home, and not an abandoned home at that.

Admittedly it was a bit different from my two bedroom apartment.  This was a family seat of a Baron, a peer of the realm whose family moved to this pied a terre in the 20th century, when their original castle home, collapsed due to subsidence arising from mining operations.  Mines owned by the same family!

In common with many such properties in the UK, the costs of maintenance for such a large building are prohibitive.  Many stately homes have passed into the hands of the National Trust to help preserve them.  Others have fallen into ruin.

Our venue today was something of a hybrid.

Externally it looks like any other grand hall for Lord and Lady R are still in residence here, and indeed both appeared at different points of the day to see what we were up to.  Perhaps the fact that this was a nude and lingerie shoot may have piqued their curiosity!  Anyway they are to be thanked for providing a property with one wing and some outbuildings that have just the right level of grime for our needs,

and at the other end of the building access to rooms that are available to rent that have a very high specification.  APW_5314A nice place to enjoy our lunch and for the models to change.

So.  Ambition fulfilled.  Lots of grunge and grime.

And the models?  You’ll have to wait for another day to see what I was up to.

But here’s Jemma to give you a flavour.APW_5074-Edit


This is not an invitation to my alliterative best friend to display her martial arts, arm wrestling or pillow pugilism skills.  It is rather a memory from three decades ago.

Let me explain.

In the far off days when I was a young and naive banker, someone in Personnel made the decision that it would be good for my development and leadership skills if I were to attend an Outward Bound course, which would instantly transform me into a dynamic and assertive leader.  I hope they claimed a refund if that was there hope, but nevertheless the experience has stayed with me, and shaped the person I am now.  This was the first true adventure of my life, and without it I may not have pursued so many of the others that I have experienced since.  The three weeks of mountain skills, rock climbing, canoeing, fell running and so on weren’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but they gave me a love of landscape and the outdoors that more recently has taken me to Asia and Africa as well as many more wet (and occasionally not so wet) days in England’s Lake District.

One of the many activities that I undertook for the first (and only time as it happens) was Orienteering.  There are checkpoint symbols dotted about the promenade near to where I live, but I have never seen anyone use them, so I don’t know how popular the sport is these days.  Has it been overtaken by geo-tagging?  Anyway, in our case the route we ran was to be nowhere near as flat or open as the Seaburn coast.  We were to race through a densely planted pine forest.

For the most part, this wasn’t a problem, with pathways and fire breaks to run along in search of the red and white markers that signified a control point, but often as we neared our objective we would realise from our maps that the actual objective was not on the road or footpath.  It was somewhere in between, requiring a plunge into stiff brush with the added bonus of sharp pine needles that pierced clothing from every angle.  Our instructor laughed uncharitably at our cuts and scratches as we completed the course, and asked how we had enjoyed pushing our way through these natural barriers.  The technical term for such terrain he told us was “fight”.  It must have seemed appropriate for I still remember it clearly over thirty years later.

I was reminded of it again today, though not because I was doing battle with pine trees.  The UK has been battered by wintry conditions that have brought heavy snow and disruption to much of the country, and whilst we on the North East coastline have escaped the whiteness, the cold and driving winds have made their presence felt here regardless.

It was as I parked the car ready to take some pictures that the term “fight” returned to mind.  Fighting to control the car door from being forced to angles that its hinges had never anticipated, fighting close the boot as the wind inverted the parcel shelf into a wedge that prevented closure, fighting to remain steady enough on my feet to keep an image in focus.  I failed at the first attempt, but this plant amply demonstrates the conditions I was facing, as did the grasses nearby.



On the beach I am accustomed to seeing the wave tops turned to spume by the power of the wind.  What I am not so used to it seeing it spread right up the beach by the forces at work.


Here the fight was to make progress against the forces of Euros and the fight to catch your breath as the wind whipped it away from you.  As I looked into the distance I could see great eruptions of white water and knew immediately that I must head that way for a shot that I have long wanted to capture; waves breaking over the Roker lighthouse.

When I got there I positioned myself on the bridge over Roker Ravine, both for shelter and the fact that its parapet was at perfect height to support my camera.  I was working with both teleconverter and zoom lens so wanted to be as steady as possible.

I focused on the lighthouse, and waited.

I recomposed the shot slightly.  And waited.

I fired off a few test shots.  And waited.

Though I was wearing my photography gloves which give snug protection but for a small circular hole in each thumb and forefinger which can be stretched to allow flesh access to controls, the heat conducting properties of camera and lens were chilling my fingers uncomfortably.

I changed my autofocus point.  And waited.

At no point did any wave reach the North pier with sufficient force to be thrust skywards and over the lighthouse.  There were a couple of minor attempts which made nice enough pictures, but nothing with the drama that I was seeking.

_MG_0481-Edit _MG_0478-Edit-Edit-Edit

Was the tide too far out to be deep enough?  Or too far out for waves to be forming at the right spot.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that at the South pier, where there is no lighthouse to provide a benchmark for height, all hell was breaking loose.  It must have been down to the angle of the wind but in the fight for the picture I wanted today I lost.

I did get a consolation prize though.



Postscript – 24th March


The following morning saw very similar conditions, still no waves over the lighthouse, but some drama nevertheless.  The wind had brought down a lamppost yesterday, and in a mood of caution the local council decided to fell another half dozen just to be cautious!

When the tide comes in…

We have a beautiful beach that runs for a couple of miles from Whitburn to Roker.  A beautiful beach that on a sunny day attracts people from all over the area, and even on a dreadful day has its hardcore fans.  A beautiful beach that twice a day is submerged by the North Sea.  It’s a bit of a shame when you’ve planned your to spend your day relaxing on the golden sands, but there’s nothing you can do about it (including this fairly half-hearted attempt).  Time and tide wait for no man.

So, assuming that you’re not going to write the day off completely what do you when the tide is high (guaranteed to give Blondie fans an earworm)?

For some there’s denial; “Let’s move as far up the beach as we can and turn away from the advancing water”, whilst for others there are plenty of places to sit away from this creeping threat.

if you’re organised there is the chance to catch up on a little reading, a bite to eat, an update on the gossip, or just to lounge on the grass.

For those energetic enough to walk a few hundred yards there’s the delights of Latimer’s Lobster Fest; even better if you can find someone to push you there.
Of course the tide itself is an attraction to some.

Some can be blase… …others less so.There is of course one way to overcome the tidal challenge.  Perhaps Canute should have just brought his cossie, had a quick dip and then gone home with a towel or two.

Can’t say I fancied it, and thankfully neither did Nikki, for having walked the length of the prom and back I hadn’t seen anyone I wanted to photograph until I saw her smile just as i was getting back to my car.  Of course she was of the “Oh no, I hate my smile” variety, but luckily her friend was persuasive.  Thanks Nikki (and thanks to your friend!)


…the first word to occur to me on reaching the beach today.

A word meaning lonely, abandoned, desolate, derelict. Not words that you would normally associate with the seaside in August, but this was a short hiatus between bouts of heavy rain.

The was more than enough to clear humanity from the sands, but also their traces. Softened by the high water content the composition of sandcastles is no longer sufficiently robust to preserve their structure. Like the footprints of their creators they are sublimated into their surroundings.  Messages initially scored deeply into the surface fade from view, replaced by streams of rainwater rushing to blend with the larger, more brackish waters that await them.

It still produces interesting imagery, including some tempting reflections in the lagoon to the north. Of course as I near them the rains return, spattering the surface of the bay and erasing those reflections like a shaken Etch-a-Sketch.

Gloomy stuff but soon lifted by the smile of todays portraits John & Lesley. I recall that earlier in the year I grew tired of photographing hats. I didn’t think I’d still be at it in August!

Weather Report – Forlorn

Digging in the Dirt

For the last couple of days or so, the fishing boats in Whitburn’s small lagoon have been dwarfed by a larger, slightly unconventional shape in the middle distance.  This is the Trinity House Vessel Galatea, whose profile is the result of a raised deck in the bow which serves a helipad, and a lowered deck astern where a couple of derricks can load and unload marker buoys and scientific equipment.

The vessel undertakes a variety of different activities, and I have no idea what it is doing off our coast, but it’s entirely possible that it’s role is to update the records of old wrecks; Whitburn Steel has a history of showing no mercy to those who drift too close.

In the foreground, a lone angler digs for bait, and I might have considered him as a suitable subject for today’s portrait, but I have been here before.

Slightly north of him at the edge of another patch of rocks was a second man whose clothing camouflaged him against the browns and greens of the vegetation on the exposed stone.  Initially I thought him another worm hunter, but as he straightened from his exploration of the mud, he picked up a second piece of equipment; a metal detector.

When I studied Classics at school, Mortimer Wheeler was still seen by some as the great god of archaeology, and metal detectorists were seen as vandals who disturbed vital evidence at sites of antiquity in their single-minded quest for coin hoards and the like.

Nowadays the metal detector is another valuable tool in archaeological exploration, and many significant finds owe their discovery to the technology.

No such luck for Derek this morning.  Working away from the high water mark, where the debris of modern life is plentiful he was in search of something older, maybe Victorian, but when I spoke to him his riches amounted to no more than a few scraps of aluminium and a very modern 10p piece.  Looks like the thrill of the chase will have to keep him occupied for a little longer.

Peter Gabriel – Digging In The Dirt