Monday 4 November
The first day after school half term.
The first day the pier is closed.
The first day dogs are admitted back to the beach.
The first day life gets back to normal for some.
The first day business drops off for others.
The first day the theme park stands empty.
The first day hamburger lovers miss the smell of fried onion.
The first day that beach huts stand huddled together, locked and unloved.
The first day of the winter season.
Southend-on-Sea – The Front – 4 November 2013
This assignment is built around my memories of Watford College of Printing, the first time round. More specifically, it’s built round the days when I should have been attending lectures discussing the merits of carton-board based packaging in my marketing classes. If I was in the mood (and you needed to be), I would drive round the M25 towards Dartford, then down the A127 from Watford in my battered old ‘Tangerine Dream’ (it was a hideous coloured old Vauxhall Astra and nicknamed for me by a college friend, one can’t nickname these things oneself).
I always used to head to Southend during the off-season just to see what it looked like and take some shots. Much to my chagrin I can’t find any of the old photos I took but I remember them pretty clearly. Grey, wet streets. People huddled in the city centre under brightly coloured umbrellas with subdued hues. Weather beaten storm shutters with faded black lettering, hanging off redundant cafes on the seafront. Seagulls defecating on permanently lit lampposts in the November half-light.
I wanted my assignment images to be evocative of this memory. I arrived late morning and much to my surprise, I found Southend bathed in the watery golden globe and bright blue, perfect autumnal skies acting as the backdrop to the seafront and distant smoke stacks. Even more to my surprise Southend looked shiny and new, like someone cared. Or at least had bestowed a sizeable dowry upon it. The seafront had been upgraded and a lot of money spent, for a large proportion of it was now taken up with a huge theme park. Yet with doors and metal shutters pulled-to on numerous outlets it retained its cloak of seasonal capitulation.
As my mental memorandum dictated that my assignment should take place solely on the seafront, this is where I set up shop late in the afternoon with the sun now starting to head west towards London. I now had the opportunity to shoot against the sun rather than with (as was my wont). This meant harsh shadow, silhouette and blown out highlights breaking with photographic convention. Such is the DSLR’s ability to handle these conditions it becomes a joy of creativity rather than a chore.
I was keen to shoot strong, well defined horizontal lines that echoed the famous pier and the horizon. I wanted to layer them to create tonal and textural interest for the viewer. These lines would be complimented by, of course, by the numerous vertical and diagonal lines appearing in the structures along the beach. The pier I felt needed to take a back seat here as it was closed but, such is its fame, I wanted it looming somewhat spectrally in the background.
I wanted to make photographs with a strong graphical element to them and these conditions were perfect. As the light started to diminish, clouds began to roll in and were an added bonus as the sun started to set. Late afternoon sun gave opportunity for great silhouettes and texture on buildings, beach and sea. I often shot straight into the sun or close to it to gain maximum contrast and texture, knowing that the still rich blue sky would maximise my contrast against the clouds and that the sun wouldn’t wash out the sky. I wanted high graphic, low-key shots and a representation of the sudden emptiness coastal Southend experiences on the first day of the winter season.
A review of this assignment will follow in due course.