Our shorelines present a literal limit for landlubbers, and a mystical milieu for the mariner, no wonder they have offered such a creative draw for artists through the millennia. The manicured segments of our shoreline that we call ‘seaside’ perhaps offer the perfect attraction, because they introduce a lively human element to these magical frontiers. Constable, and Turner along with many others, helped to light the creative touch-paper with their paintings, and we now also have a rich heritage of seaside photography in the UK. A particularly noteworthy contribution came from Frank Meadow Sutcliffe who produced a prolific collection of photographs documenting life along the coastline of North Yorkshire over a hundred years ago. Many of Sutcliffe’s photographs featured the wonderful town of Whitby and it’s people, as featured here in my photograph.
For many of us, childhood trips to the seaside with our parents and grandparents evoke powerful happy memories of warm sand between our toes, waves lapping around our feet and the smell of the sea-salt in the air. The amusement arcades, fish and chip shops and ice-cream vans complete the picture: the quintessential British seaside holiday. This rich tapestry of childhood memories is a valuable resource, waiting to be tapped into as we now explore those same beaches from a photographic perspective. The seaside has always been a wonderful stomping ground for photography, with all the prerequisites for compelling imagery already in place: a microcosm of social documentary with people doing different things, wearing different clothes and enjoying the excitement of a relatively unfamiliar environment.
My image this month was made on a rather cloudy but warm summer’s day, while strolling along the beach at Whitby. I set all my exposure controls to ‘automatic’ to liberate myself from technical concerns and then shot images in reaction to the changing composition as subjects moved in and out of the frame. My image is a nod to some of the early exponents of documentary colour photography: pioneering UK artists like John Bulmer, and more recently, from the eighties, Martin Parr with his prolific seaside imagery from New Brighton in ‘The Last Resort’. Effective colour grading has the power to make or break a photograph and I adore the nostalgic colour palettes used by these photographers, but for my own image, I’ve selected a muted palette to minimise the otherwise distracting bright colours.