Shingle Street is 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. My understanding of the place has changed and deepened since my first visit in January 2020 on the eve of Brexit. The subsequent Covid-19 pandemic seriously limited my ability to pursue the sort of documentary work around economic and political views of local people – not only for my protection but because many are retired and older than me.
This project is explicitly subjective, reflecting the ways my own experience of the place has evolved and deepened. My first very bleak impressions in my dark mood of post-Brexit alienation from anything English – heightened by the multiple Union Jacks on the deserted brown grey shingle where the only features were the shrivelled pillars of mullein. But on repeat visits at different times of the year I have come to really feel at home in the constantly changing environment where colours change dramatically with the seasons – flower cycles that transform the landscape, bird migrations and bird song and favourite times for colourful kites as holiday-makers join local people.
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.
‘Colours of Shingle’ 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.
Outsider on the Edge: Photography Derives
!! 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.
Derive 1: Shingle Street Settlement
January 30th 2020 just before Brexit and July 2021 before summer easing of COVID restrictions shows very different moods and colours.Derive1_ShingleStreet
Derive 2 Car Journey
February 5th 2020 road from camp site via Oxley Marshes to Martello Car Park. Taking to local people in the camp-site, pub, birdwatchers and working on marsh drainage.Derive2_CarJourney_2020Feb
Derive 3 Out to Sea
May 2021 A quick 3 hour visit 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.Derive3_OuttoSea_2021May
Derive 4 Exploring North
July 2021 iPhone derive along the Coast Path towards Orford and back along the shingle beach.Derive4_GoingNorth
Derive 5 Southward Sketches
July 2021 Sketchbook derive along the Coast Path to the South towards Felixstowe.PDF Embedder requires a url attribute
Derive 6 Looking Down
July 2021 ‘Alternative derive’ Northwards looking down at the flowers, cement path and beachcombing the shingle.Derive6_LookingDown
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.
Discussion of moods
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
Slowing Down Time: Sketchbooks
‘I Want to Fly’
Welcome to Shingle Street
Skylarks in the Wind:
Gelliplate: Pebble variations
Colours of Shingle:
Poem 1: Hagstone
Discovering Shingle Street:
Research and Inspiration
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 were 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.
Assessment and Future Developments
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.
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.