I am very pleased to announce that my new book sea shore will be ready in time for my Artwave show in September. The first edition of 100 copies will be printed over the next week and then I will begin the process of hand binding them all. The book is a collection of 29 cyanotypes of sea and shoreline landscapes, with two poems written specifically for this project by American poet Sara London.
My photo this week is the image on the cover of the book. This curved wave was photographed in Newhaven during a winter storm. The unusual shape came, I think, from the force of the wave rebounding against the arm of the breakwater and circling back into the harbour.
I headed to the coast early in the morning the day after the worst of the storm. The wind was still fierce but the sky was clear. Low sunlight skimmed across the water, highlighting every ridge and wrinkle on the wind-whipped surface and catching in the white spray of the waves.
I have been experimenting with how large I can go with my cyanotype prints in preparation for an exhibit in September. I am limited by my set-up, which includes four uv lights, two heavy pieces of toughened glass in which to sandwich the paper and negative during exposure, and a modestly sized bath tub that I wash the prints in. The largest single print I can make is approximately 60cm (24″).
This photograph of bladderwrack seaweed, taken on the west coast of Wales last summer, has so much detail and texture in it that I knew it could work at a large scale. I hit upon the idea of printing 24 separate squares that fit together to create a larger whole. The complete print is 115 x 75cm/ 45 x 30″ (see my toes for scale!).
Because this is a hand-printing process, the colour and exposure of each square varies slightly and the joins between them do not align perfectly, giving a more painterly effect. I am enjoying taking yet another step away from the perfection of digital printing.
I came back yesterday from a long-overdue trip to my other home town of Truro, out on the end of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I caught up with family and friends who I have been unable to see for many months because of Covid, and I swam at my favourite beaches – the ones I grew up on.
When it came time to return to Lewes, I took the ferry from neighbouring Provincetown, across Cape Cod Bay to Boston. There were raindrops on the ferry windows and clouds shimmered over the expanse of sea. Leaving by water always feels like the most appropriate way to depart from this peninsula stuck out in the Atlantic.
Travel bans over the past 16 months have heightened my sense of the complexity of being from more than one country. As much as I love and belong in each place, I never lose the connection and longing for the other. Covid restrictions have reminded me of how lucky I am that I can usually travel easily between my two home towns. I know this is a privilege denied to many around the world.
Last time I wrote about using cyanotype with landscape and seascape photographs. This week I wanted to share with you my experiments using the technique with architectural photographs.
Trying to visualise how a digital photograph will translate as a hand-printed cyanotype is not straight forward. As I mentioned in my last post, it is such long process getting from the beginning to the end result that I need to have a pretty good idea whether a photo will work.
There is always the element of surprise, though. Photos that I feel sure of can fall flat, and ones that seem like a long shot can be bang on the money.
Using the technique with architectural photography is an interesting shift away from the organic forms of landscapes. I have been working on this idea for some time and wanted to try focussing on a unified group of photographs taken from a single project.
My recent shoot of Madeira Terrace in Brighton seemed a good place to start. This photograph was taken from the upper level terraces looking down onto the green copper roof of the Concorde 2 nightclub.
There is something about the cyanotype process that can remove the anchor of time and space from an image, highlighting instead the shape, texture and light of the composition. That is an exciting dynamic to be working with.
Here is a change of pace for you, after those monumental Brighton buildings. This photograph is from a documentary series shot in Somerset in the early 1990s.
Dulverton Laundry was, at the time, the main employer in a remote town on the edge of Exmoor National Park, and provided the surrounding area with laundry and dry cleaning services.
The laundry was housed in an interesting structure that represented an early example of industrial building, and was originally water-powered by the leat that ran beneath it.
By far the most interesting aspect of my several trips to the laundry were the employees. Alongside an obvious pride in their work, I remember a sense of people having worked together for years, and the banter and camaraderie that this engendered.
The building has been preserved because of its Grade II listing, but the business closed three years ago, with the loss of 22 jobs. The closure of a local business like this hurts the community on so many levels.
I have a treat for you today, taking you from one iconic Brighton building last time to another one this week. This is a view of the upper level and lift tower of Madeira Terrace, the spectacular 865m-long Victorian covered walkway that lines the seafront at Madeira Drive in Brighton.
Built at the end of the 19th century, according to Historic England this Grade II* structure is “very rare being the only known, land-based, monumentally-scaled, iron promenade in England, and possibly worldwide; although converted to electric power, the three-stage lift is an early and rare example of a hydraulic, water-powered lift in a seaside location”. To top it all, this is also the location of the oldest and longest green wall in the UK. The cliff face was planted with Japanese Spindle trees 20 years before the terrace was built. The trees continue to thrive 150 years later.
In 2012 Madeira Terrace was closed to the public because it had become unsafe. Brighton and Hove Council have now secured funding for an ambitious renovation project, working in partnership with the local community, to “restore the arches and create a new sustainable leisure, social and business space sensitive to the terraces original design”. Please have a look at the Council’s plans here. They are very exciting.
I have been drafted in to document the restoration, starting with the site as it stands now. It was with a keen pleasure that I headed behind the fencing to the deserted terraces, with the sweeping sea views all to myself. In these closed-off areas, it was interesting to notice how the balance between human structure and nature was leaning towards greenery and wildlife. You can find a selection of photos from my first shoot here.