Featureless Cogden Beach
With an hour or two to low water the foreshore at Cogden was as wide as I have ever seen it. This morning’s full moon has caused a pretty big tide for here and with the gentle seas of the last few days the tide has left a wide swathe of regularly shelving beach: all smoothed out, featureless and patted flat like sandcastle walls. There is even a zone at the top of the foreshore of hard-packed sand – yes, sand not gravel or grit – that allows swift walking or even, if you had a mind to, running. This meant I could stride out and get some much needed exercise. It also meant that I walked further than intended so my walk back along the debris line at the top of the beach took rather longer too.
Another piece of the discarded sign I found weeks back
The lack of vigour in the tides and the east winds not whipping up the sea has also meant there is very little new flotsam on the beach. Nice and clean, but not great for a beachcomber with a specific quarry in mind. Really there was nothing apart from an occasional larger pebble on the foreshore and even at the tip of that days tide there was little more – just a few clumps of whelk egg cases and some small pieces of weed here and there.
So my passage back was along the very top of the beach, scouring the old debris line for bits of aluminium can. I’m looking for some naturally cut and weathered pieces to try out in some artworks I am playing with at the moment. I found a few almost complete cans but nothing like I wanted. I am also collecting sea-rounded sticks that might work as pegs for a hat rack. I carried home a few possibles. I also found another bit of the sign the letter “p” of which is in my studio. I didn’t bring this piece home.
Whe we went out to West Bay the other day I was looking for a specific thing – some red, quite thick angling line. There was nothing on the beach at all and certainly no discarded fishermens’ tackle. It wasn’t untill I had given up and was almost off the beach that I found exactly what I wanted. Today it was similar: I had given up and was just stepping off the beach onto the track behind whenI found a piece of can and a few moments later a piece actually blew off the beach and landed in front of me!!
Red line and white rectangle. I love the way the line is all neatly wound but one end snakes off over a nearby white shape – just like some work I am playing with
It has been a while since I have been able to write here – I have not even been able to finish my last post or write about the other things I saw and experienced on my stay in Brighton or the artwork that is beginning to appear from the trip. I even have notes and images from a walk before I went away! Hopefully I will catch up with the salient bits in the next week or so.
I have been pretty busy with other things and I have set up a new Twitter account (@DavidSmithArt) specifically for tweeting about my work and the arts in general. That has quickly generated some interesting contacts, including an artist in Canada called Patti Agapi. She has begun a project to create a small, abstract collage every day for a year, which has inspired me to emulate her. I am a few days behind her but started today and my feeble efforts can be seen at Scissors & Glue.
And of course my home beach has been the subject of acute media interest as the star of ITV’s crime thriller “Broadchurch” and it is to that very stretch of coast that I have been today.
East Cliff, West Bay
I think it was something about the light – grey and diffuse but not too dull – that made the cliffs seem even more massive and monumental than usual. They really did seem to bulge with the heaviness of the recent rains: pregnant with landslips. It was quite clear that there had been some falls today, with rocks having made visible tracks as they rolled down the sand, marks that hadn’t been erased by the tide. There was one large boulder freshly fallen quite a way down the beach, shattered fragments on the wavecut shelf at the foot of the cliff from first impact still bright and unweathered. These recent falls really impressed on me that there are far more rocks littering the base of the cliffs that there used to be. I was quite shocked. The quantity of rock has grown without me really taking it in.
I’ve been staying in Brighton both as a birthday holiday treat and to gather information and inspiration for my Tidelines project. Yesterday I revisited my old haunts along the coast from Brighton to Rottingdene, but today I visited the first of my “new” sites, Cuckmere Haven.
I chose Cuckmere Haven because I read an article about it in a newspaper where the author clearly felt it was a hidden gem. Perhaps they felt the same way about the place that I do about my special beaches and so that would give me an additional way to look at the place maybe. Of course there is the iconic backdrop of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head behind so it was ripe for a bit of investigation. I checked it out on line and on maps and it seemed like it could provide some magic.
Seven Sisters from Cuckmere Haven
So today we drove to have a look and to be honest I was not sure where we should park to most easily get to the beach on the west side of the Cuckmere river. None of the maps and sites showed access from the Seven Sisters Visitor Centre (it was only last night that I discovered that Ordnance Survey Get-a-Map doesn’t work on Android!) We had a little drama when we turned off the A27 to find the road was closed at Alfriston: but the diversion took us past the Long Man of Willmington so there was a little bonus for our trouble. So when we reached the car park at the visitor centre we decided to check our options. We saw we could walk down the road and take a path on the west side of the river and decided to park up there.
It was great to walk along serenaded by skylarks and with excited expectation, but distressing to see the amount of rubbish – clearly flotsam from high tides coming well up the estuary and salt flats. It was sickening to be reminded of the lack of care we have towards the environment. The path had not that long dried out and become packed down, smoother in places, by passing feet. A week earlier and I suspect we would have been in sticky mud. We saw plenty of Canada geese, oyster catchers, egrets, pochard (an informed guess at distance) and a species of wader that eludes me at the moment, but I was surprised how few birds there were really.
For my first impressions and my evolving thoughts about some of the ingredients that are becoming clear in what makes a beach special for me you will have to wait for another post as all the walking, taking in visual stimuli, good food and wine has exhausted me.
I am pleased to be progressing with my work on the Tidelines theme and I have been in the studio the first three days of this week working on some pieces about chaos and control (my favourite theme!) inspired by Holkham and the ever unique interplay between sand, tide and wind (with a bit of Cogden thrown in).
Now I am looking forward to a few days in Brighton, with a trip to Cuckmere Haven. This few days away is my birthday treat from Sally and we will meet up there with my daughter, who shares my birthday and is exactly half my age this year.
This trip will mean I can revisit one of my important seaside places of the past and my first visit to one of my chosen “new” beaches. I can’t wait to do some work there as well as have a nice break. I just hope it doesn’t rain too much.
Last Thursday I went for a walk along Hive beach and found there was hardly a tideline at all: the sea had been right up to the cliff base and taken all the debris and swept it down to Portland or buried it under a carpet of fine gravel. Even close to low tide the wind was propelling the occasional finger of foam right up the beach.
Really the only things I found were whelk egg clusters and numbers of pieces of drink cans ripped apart by the sea and shore . The tin can pieces dance east, driven by the wind at a pace I can’t keep up with walking. I have grown quite fond of these ragged bits of aluminium and am thinking I may do more with them.
Battered drink can on Hive Beach
I caught it up later
I walked a little way on to Cogden Beach where the tideline was messy and mostly composed of battered wood and reedy weeds. I didn’t see any dead or injured birds. It was only when I got home that I started to hear about the terrible problems that guillemots and razorbills faced from a slick of as yet unknown pollutant. It looks as if commercial greed is the culprit again: most likely a ship illegally flushing its tanks.
It was quite a shock to feel the strength of the wind when I turned to come back. It was then that it became important to tread lightly and save my energy.
BBC picture of chalets at Monmouth beach
This morning I saw a BBC report about a new landslip on the Jurassic Coast, at Monmouth Beach just west of Lyme Regis. The approach road has collapsed and it is believed some chalets have been damaged. Police are advising owners not to try to access their properties as they fear the recent heavy rains will make further landslides likely. The road has been closed “indefinitely”.
There has been a major rockfall today at Burton Bradstock on the same section of cliffs where Charlotte Blackman was crushed and killed in July last year. It is believed that no one was on the beach and thus no injuries resulted. The beach and coast path have been closed by the National Trust since the fall last summer and this latest landslide underlines the message that people are putting their lives at risk if they venture too close to the cliffs and other unstable areas along the coast around here.
Massive rock fall at Burton Bradstock. Image courtesy Stephen Banks
This image has been provided by local photographer Stephen Banks. You can see more of his work with many great images of West Dorset and some great stargazing images at his blog dorsetscouser.com
I’d normally give a link to the Dorset Echo story on the subject but refuse on the basis that they don’t have a picture, don’t have much of a story and, most importantly, because they have used an unnecessarily tabloid headline referring to “killer cliffs”. Come on you journos, you can do better!
When I say old photos I mean my old photos. I believe they are from a holiday in 1991 when I took my family to stay in Wells-next-the-Sea. It marks the moment that I fell in love with Holkham. I had been there once before but this holiday gave me extensive access to the beach and the meditative process of searching for the perfect scallop shell. I have been scanning in some old snapshots from my childhood and while in the mood, looked out for pictures I took on past visits to my chosen beaches. I have been shocked to find how many of the old prints have deteriorated and may have to pick the best and have some sessions trying to restore some images.
However, I am equally appalled at the poor quality of some of my photographs, even with a half-decent camera! But then again I have been finding that there is a lot of appeal in the not so polished performances – they are another example of the interaction of chaos and control, and they can produce things of great beauty, things of brooding wonder, things of oddity and humour. And I suppose that’s what I am interested in: I do not want to produce pictorial images I want to make images which touch the ineffable qualities of my experience and somehow hope that others might sense it. Some of the most interesting images at the recent Munch show at Tate Modern were amongst the faded and scratchy photographic and movie images. Munch played around a lot with double exposures and self portraits. He wasn’t trying to create studio quality portraits or well crafted reportage: he was interested in exploring what photography could do for the way he saw the world. After many years of efforts to get good results from my cameras and lenses I am finding increasingly that the mistakes and chance happenings often capture more than the perfect shots where I got the light right and the depth of field spot on. An example is with the sample images you get on a computer or phone. I was flicking through my dropbox folder where my phone has dumped its samples and found that some of these images made me physically uncomfortable: they were so perfect they were unreal.
Storm approaching Brancaster beach
I love this image I found of what I believe to be Brancaster beach – OK I know it says Holkham and Wells at the head of the post but it is only just along the coast and the storm is probably over Holkham! What I like is that it holds how I felt at the time: there is a bit of the awe and wonder of a visually exciting natural event in a remote place but mainly there is a wistful, lonely, washed out sense that echoes how I was feeling a that time. The fact that it has faded and discoloured a bit adds to that feeling and there is something of the old sepia postcard about it – or a Victorian watercolour, even a bit Turneresque – with the yearning for a lost time that goes with it.
I am going to enjoy playing with this image and others, though at present I am trying to resist Photoshop. It is true there is ample scope for the intervention of chance and chaos with Photoshop due to my lack of skill using it, but somehow I need to be more physically involved at this time. I have been playing around with my scanner and printer in conjunction: making over-inked prints on the wrong paper, rubbing out the excess, rescanning, etc and starting to get some interesting results. So far it’s been in areas that are not relevant to this project, but I aim to mess about with some of those images I mentioned in the last post.
So you don’t feel I have cheated, here are a picture of sand ripples from West Sands, Holkham and the Quay at Wells-next-the-Sea:
Holkham sand ripple
Quay at Wells-next-the-Sea
We went for a walk on Hive beach in today’s wonderful sunshine. We had been aiming to just pop down to West Bay, but it was like a summer holiday day – if not busier! I suppose the first sunny day after weeks of dreary grey and pouring rain was bound to get people out, plus of course the New Year holiday. So since we couldn’t find a reasonable place to park we decided to drive along the coast to Hive Beach at Burton Bradstock. We knew that would be busy too, but reckoned the overflow car parking would be less underwater than West Bay.
Run from the waves
It was really good to get out in the sun, and the breeze (still chilly) had abated from the ferocity of the last day or two. I wished I had taken a camera and maybe the camcorder, but I am enjoying the images I created on my phone. Whilst it has got megapixels coming out of its ears, let’s face it the tiny little lens is pretty dire and the processor hardly brilliant! It also tends to give everything a much warmer aura than reality. BUT stretching its capabilities to the limit optically (and without using the reasonably sophisticated digital capture options) the grainy, noisy, distorted, solarised results are really quite wonderful as abstract images. I am currently trying to capture some of the magic pixellations of my camera’s screen on paper.
Breaker against the sun
Winter beach – child stands on one leg
The choice of Marazion for one of my beaches from the past is intriguing. I have described my choices as places that have hooks in me, strong emotional attachments that have drawn me back to them. Yet I have only been back to Marazion once since those two holidays when I was a child. Perhaps those visits were the first times that I was able to hold a strong memory, a solid sense of “place”. In a way, however, I no longer have true memories from my childhood: they are more memories of memories. They are idealisations, romantic pictures of my childhood; they hold the first hints of love, of special, personal friends. Perhaps there were the first steps to individuation and a growing independence of self and thought.
Marazion and St Michael’s Mount across Mount’s Bay
When I revisited Marazion some years back I didn’t find it to be a particularly attractive or interesting place. The weather was pretty grey and dull which didn’t help. The section of beach where the camping coaches once stood was pretty featureless, and I doubt if it would have impressed itself on me had I come at it fresh on that adult visit. So in the case of Marazion at least I feel I can safely say that it holds importance for me purely because it was a place where something special happened and I have lodged it in my heart and mind rather than being a place that of itself imposed itself on me through its grandeur, beauty, geography, geology or whatever. It will be interesting to measure my reactions on my next visit.