Assignment 3 – Southend-on-Sea – A review

I had been through a few location options in the run up to this assignment. Thoughts ran through void-decks in HDB blocks (public housing in Singapore), car parks soon to be pulled down and finally, as the opportunity arose, the English seaside. All of the above gave me the chance to shoot for a high-graphic, high-contrast approach to the images.

In setting out to take these photographs I hadn’t anticipated what a fantastically sunny day I would be shooting in. It made the job a lot easier than anticipated as the strength of the sun combined with the blue sky made the definition that I was after much easier to obtain. A shoot on a darker, more overcast drizzly day would have produced a completely different feel to my photographs (more noise, less definition, higher ISO). As I described in the main piece, I had fond memories of my times shooting in Southend before and this was to prove an equally as evocative time at the seaside.  Hopefully this has come across both in my photographs and my body of text.

For all the money which has clearly been spent on the seafront here it only graphically manifests itself in the two images containing the theme park’s silhouetted corkscrew and the Fish ‘n’ Chips restaurant. The rest of my images contain very similar content to those of twenty years ago.

After the industrial overtones of the rest of the images, the most organic shot of the series is the seagulls wheeling overhead, almost regaining their rites over the now empty beach and skies.

The day finished with the most amazing sunset. The clouds helped to soften the rays and allowed me to gain plenty of detail as well as the silhouettes of the seagulls now settling to roost on the groyne. I thought it would be interesting to see whether a monochrome sunset would have the same impact as a conventional full techni-colour version. I believe it does.

I enjoyed the recurring patterns that were to be found all around; layers of horizontal lines delineated by the difference in tonal quality, chaotic patterns of seagulls wheeling, waves and pebbles on the beach all pushed in the same direction by the tide, occasionally interrupted by footprints and seaweed.

People, if present, are taken at distance and anonymous to the point of blackness. Indeed in one photo, the figure is just represented by a ghosting shadow. I am trying to give a sense of space and emptiness to the beach and front.

The longest pier in the world appears at points through the series, a thin strip skulking in the background. A hulking tourist attraction suddenly dormant but still dominant on the horizon.

As is the way, many photographs fell by the wayside during the edit in which I wanted to stick with the pre-arranged ten final images for the series. There images amongst them that I would like to have displayed but felt didn’t suit the final ‘story’ that I was wanting to tell.

Technically, I shot in RAW format enabling me to get the most out of my final images in post-processing being aware of the high dynamic range I would be dealing with. I was not concerned with with the blown out highlights or the ‘black’ blacks. They were intentional to give maximum impact to my final images. They were all shot at around 50-60mm focal length to give a street photography ‘feel’ to the final images. The ISO was low to give the cleanest image possible to reflect the bright, clear sunlight I was shooting in.

I think I have succeed in my aim for the assignment. The high graphic representation loses nothing and the minds eye need not work too hard to work the story out, even though it is something we cannot mimic with our own eyes.

 

INFLUENCES
Sebastiao Salgado – Genesis exhibition & book.
Bill Brandt – high contrast and Britishness of 1930s Britain, people and buildings.
Weegee – high contrast to the point of blown out faces and absolute black backgrounds etc.
Ming Thein  – clean, high graphic, industrial reportage as seen in my review of his work.
Raghu Rai –  not only for his black and white street photography, but also his amazing photos. My review of Raghu Rai is here.
Paul Strand – high contrast abstract.

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