2.1 Colours of Shingle, Suffolk

‘Colours of Shingle’ – is a social and environmental documentary body of work about Shingle Street, a small remote coastal hamlet at the mouth of Orford Ness, connected via Hollesley village situated between the ancient town of Orford and the small manor town of Bawdsey. 

Shingle Street itself consists of a row of cottages of varying age in a minimalist and haunting shingle landscape. It was established as a community of fishing families and river pilots for the River Ore in the early 19th century. The four Martello towers south of Shingle Street were built in 1808-1809. Coastguard cottages at the North end of the beach housed coastguards who worked as pilots, lifeboatmen and excise men to control the smuggling. In the 1930s it became an important place for remote tourism when several of the houses remaining today were built. During World War II this area of the coast was one of the main lines of defence and several buildings were destroyed, including the Lifeboat Inn, the hamlet’s only pub. Today many of the cottages are picturesque but quite expensive holiday lets. An important feature is the Shell Line artwork created by two friends who visited during recovery from cancer. It has since been continually maintained as a prominent local landmark. The settlement has also inspired music and poetry. There are also a number of historical and environmental books by local people, and a Facebook page for people who visit regularly – discussing issue like fishing, local developments etc.

The settlement is part of a very fragile and unique coastal strip. The beach is a designated SSI because of its rare vegetated shingle, little terns, saline lagoons and geology. A report from October 2004 suggested that Shingle Street is at risk from the sea and could disappear by 2024 if sea defences are not erected. North Sea windfarms can be seen in the distance on a fine days. Current proposed development of the area around nuclear power at Sizewell and the current Freeport proposals for Felixstowe and Harwich also mean that the whole area will change significantly in the coming years.

I first visited the day before Brexit in January 2019 – a grey cloudy day with a haunting winter sunset. Shingle Street was something of a healer – deserted and melancholy enough for me to self-indulge my heightened emotions of loss of identity and alienation, and extreme anger at the narrow, stifling, xenophobic country England seemed to have become. My second visit was soon after in February – this time a sunny day with beautiful ‘seadog’ ice rainbows. We had lunch in the friendly pub in Hollesley, investigated the campsite – also very friendly – and chatted with the man with a bright red digger. Clearing the drainage ditches after years of neglect through mismanagement on the old local council.

Then came COVID. So visits were either forbidden or not advisable or not possible because of other commitments in the small windows of opportunity between Lockdowns. I did not start to visit again until May 2021 when the vaccination programme made it safe enough to travel again.

Shingle Street had quickly become one of my ‘areas of interest’. The visual documentary work ‘Colours of Shingle’ is a multi-perspective and multi-medias body of work based on to develop:

  • Photobook and photo series ‘Outsider on the Edge’ documenting my own reactions and emotions in the environment that seems so empty, but is actually full of changing interest and life.
  • ‘Inside Edges’ sketchbooks and photo-collage diaries with (COVID-permitting) interviews with local people and information from the local magazine ‘Village Voices’ and other on-line and printed sources.
  • ‘Edgemaps’ a set of different cardcut ‘maps’ based on census maps and Google aerial views together with my own selected information.
  • ‘Edgescapes’ a set of prints in both photographic and different printmaking media, particularly solar plate and drypoint that aim to capture different aspects of life.
  • ‘Colours of Shingle’ a moving image work that brings these together into a multi-layered documentary.

These start with considering my own subjective ‘voice’ – how I feel, what I want to say and why and exploring the different ways in which I can communicate different aspects of this social and natural environment. But I also want my work to help me understand why so many people here think so differently from myself. I am interested in the social factors that led to this particular area voting strongly for Brexit and the Conservative party, despite the levels of deprivation of much of the population. And the changes that have occurred since Brexit and the COVID pandemic, compounding pre-existing issues of rural poverty, inequality and neglect.

It is part of a substantial and ongoing long-term comparative body of work about the diverse but interlinked communities and environments along the Suffolk coast between Southwold and Felixstowe, including Orford, Aldeburgh and Dunwich and possibly other locations not yet visited, looking at the multiple interactions between these locations and their distinctive ‘Southfolk’ identity. They are linked by history from prehistoric times and trade with Europe, particularly the Netherlands. The swallowing up of Dunwich by the sea and Orford silting led to the rise of Aldeburgh. The locations are all linked by the Suffolk Coast path and tourist development, the decline of fishing and the work of artists presenting at art and music festivals in Southwold, Aldeburgh and Snape. I started by reading books on the Suffolk coast including Sebald’s Rings of Saturn and sections on Suffolk in Daniel Defoe’s A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain (1724–1727) work by Robert MacFarlane and Stanley Donway on Orford and some You Tube surfing on different locations. I chose to start at Shingle Street because that was an area of the coast I had not been before, and the most remote.

Discovering Shingle Street:
Project Evolution

January 30th 2020 Derive 1 Path line

The first visit to Shingle Street was a moody cloud/sun day – 30th January 2020, the day before Brexit. It was high tide and I walked in a line along the footpath. In flaneur mode I wandered around taking photographs of things I noticed and thought indicated something significant or interesting about the place. Mostly grey and melancholy signs and seas/shinglescapes, reinforcing my feeling of alienation from ‘English’ surroundings where the majority of the population voted for Brexit, and also for Tory MP Theresa Coffey. As former Environment Minister and now Work and Pensions minister, she opposes gay rights, most environmental and social protection legislation, and welfare and housing benefits.

This series of photographs is the basis for ‘Outsider on the Edge’ a largely textless photobook and slideshow personal project – audience and benefit to the world to be determined at the end with the benefit of hindsight and perspective of deeper investigation and local knowledge.

Despite the feeling of alienation, I found Shingle Street intriguing. After a week of intensive on-line investigation following Google and Facebook chains, and links from ‘The Shell Line’, I decided there wer more than enough interesting angles on this one location for the whole project – including other photographers, artists and writers as well as active Facebook page and website for the local magazine ‘Village Voices’. And that I would learn much more from following up on the different angles and potential audiences and purposes than covering too many locations in a more superficial way.

See Shingle Street Back Notes

  • Coast House
  • German Ocean Mansions
  • German Ocean Mansions
  • German Ocean Mansions
February 2020 Going Deeper

I revisited Shingle Street a week later on February 5th, a sunnier day determined to have a break from Brexit issues. And to follow up on some names, addresses and locally available books about the area.

This time we spent more time in the local pub in Hollesley, and Oxley Marshes as well as Shingle Street itself in order to get a better rounded picture of the area.

People were extremely open and friendly, including many who were very knowledgeable about the area as well as photographers and birdwatchers from other places. The campsite proved very reasonably priced with a very helpful owner, to enable multiple visits and staying overnight.

Thus confirming my decision to focus only on this one location and visit at regular intervals to develop local ‘audience engagement’ with people who could fill in gaps and provide feedback and potential market links with visiting tourists.

May 2021 Derive 2 Circle

This second derive was on a quick 3 hour visit in May on the way back from Aldeburgh. A very sunny day when the tide way very low. So I was able to wander in a sort of rough circle.

Taking photos with my new iPhone 12.

I also experimented with some panoramas as the basis for sketches and maps- but need a bit more practice.

Outsider on the Edge, Photobook

!! First very preliminary draft on Blurb to look at colours and printing. Was exported from Lightroom. All to be done properly with a real concept in InDesign.

‘Outsider on the Edge’ is a largely textless photobook documentary photobook of my first impressions of Shingle Street 30th January 2020, the day before Brexit.

It was a moody cloud/sun day coloured by heightened gloomy emotions surrounding the whole Brexit process that made me feel I no longer wished to be British, certainly have nothing to do with England. In true flaneur fashion I wandered around taking photographs of things I noticed and thought indicated something significant or interesting about the place. Mostly grey and melancholy signs, Union Jacks and seas/shinglescapes, reinforcing my feeling of alienation from ‘English’ surroundings where the majority of the population voted for Brexit, and also for Tory MP Theresa Coffey. As former Environment Minister and now Work and Pensions minister, she opposes gay rights, most environmental and social protection legislation, and welfare and housing benefits.

The original Photobook was then revisited in April 2021 to add more generally relevant text from a further visit after the COVID pandemic.

Inside Edges: Research and Sketchbook

Despite the feeling of alienation, I found Shingle Street intriguing. After a week of intensive on-line investigation following Google and Facebook chains, and links from ‘The Shell Line’, I decided there wer more than enough interesting angles on this one location for the whole project – including other photographers, artists and writers as well as active Facebook page and website for the local magazine ‘Village Voices’. And that I would learn much more from following up on the different angles and potential audiences and purposes than covering too many locations in a more superficial way. See:

A collage sketchbook of photos, conversations with local people, available information on-line or in local publications, annotated with my own questions and thoughts.

Mapping Edges

!! to be done in July and transfered to solar plate and/or cardcut monoprint.

Edgescapes:
Photographs and Prints

!! To do printmaking in solar plate and drypoint.

Photographs of the landscapes in and around Shingle Street digitally processed in different photographic styles for a tourist and/or fine art market in response to audience feedback.

Focusing on colour, I continue to explore the range of effects of digital processing in Lightroom, Photoshop and DxO FX filters on interpretations of images. I include consideration of individual images, collage and photomontage and approaches to text.

  • how do different media affect how people interprete messages
  • how do different media affect how we see and interprete things
  • How does mood affect what we see and how we use media
  • How do our expectations about audience perceptions affect what we communicate and how

Solarplate

Colours of Shingle Moving Image

!! First draft to be done July

Inspirational Influences

Making the World a Better Place

The project continues my interest in different subjective and objective ‘outsider’ approaches to documentary, focusing on environmental challenges, social challenges of marginalisation and rural poverty. and the changing and conflicting identities and interests that have underpinned debates around Brexit and future visions for our countryside and environment. But – further my response to First Things Next – I am aiming for different types of outputs that fulfil different purposes: direct messaging, for different audiences linked to a broad ethical commitment. Provoking questioning from the viewer rather than imposing one single message.

I look at how my creative process, particularly documentary work, can be significantly improved through working with other people to help me to develop alternative narrative threads and visual approaches, building on some of my professional qualitative research skills.

Audience engagement

My body of work will include different ways of engaging with audiences to improve my work in terms of:

  • refining the ‘messages’ by getting a range of local views and information on social and environmental issues through conversations and interviews and engagement with relevant local social networking sites.
  • feedback on the effectiveness of the ‘communication aesthetics’ from local, national and also international overseas audiences to improve my technical and visual communication skills through ZemniImages Facebook page crosspasted to other social networks.
  • finding different marketing, promotion and advocacy outlets for the different dimensions of the body of work. Including campaigning organisations like National Trust, RSPB and Rural England.