I’ve quite recently realised that one of my favourite photography subjects is the sea. We go to the coast as a family once a year, and I always take a camera to the beach with me. Every year I get a photo I’m pleased with, so I’ve decided to collate them. In doing so though, I have realised that they mean something to me that’s a little more than could possibly visible to other people who might look at them.
I currently have an article brewing that talks about photography not being a competition. I’ll save the full details, but in short, I talk about how I’m really rubbish at collating my favourite images either on my website or for printing. The gist of the article is that I don’t feel motivated to do it because I’m also not motivated to try and perpetuate myself as a “good” photographer. My hobby photography is just that – a hobby, and if no one else sees my work, I don’t really mind.
Anyway, I’ll come back to that in more detail in that other article. The reason I mention it here is that – quite ironically I suppose – writing that article has made me want to collate some of my favourite images together for display online. Though I should add, this is not really for the benefit of showing them off as such. The main reasons I’ve decided to do it is for my own personal satisfaction, and as a way that I personally can view them more easily as a set.
Actually, it wasn’t just that article that inspired this thinking. I also took a photo (above) on my recent holiday to Cornwall that I was particularly pleased with. I shot 4 rolls of Portra 400 that week – some of the shots I’m really pleased with – but that was the primary keeper of the trip. As you’ll see below, not all of my favourite seascapes are as minimal as that one, but there’s just something satisfying about making minimalism work in a photo that – for my own aesthetic enjoyment at least – makes this shot really work.
But, what I also personally love about this image – and in fact all of these images – is that for me they tell a story that none of you can see. They tell a story of my holiday. They remind me of the moment I was enjoying when I was taking them. Without fail, all of these images were taken when I was on holiday, in a good mood, either enjoying some time to myself or some time with my family.
I shared a couple of these images on Instagram recently and in doing so mentioned this. In fact, it was when sharing this next image that I commented about the idea that however much I like it as a photo, it would also always remind me of the time me and Norah went for a walk together along Seaton beach in Cornwall. It was a baking hot day, Norah didn’t have any shoes on, and we walked probably half a mile together in total having our little conversations about the colours of the stones on the beach, how hot the sand was etc. We also talked about not climbing some steep concrete steps… and then how we were still going to climb them because Norah wanted to, and really there is no stopping Norah when she wants to do something… I wouldn’t have taken this next photo is she hadn’t won the argument.
None of this is in this photo for you. But it is for me.
Then there are photos from last year’s trip to Wales. This next shot was taken on a beach called Freshwater West in South Wales – I can’t tell you the joy I felt as we walked down on to a beach that must have been a few miles long to find practically no one on it on a midsummer day. We spent the whole day there with the kids and some friends doing very little. I wondered off for some time to take a few photos by myself and found an area of rocks where there was literally no one around at all. Just me with my thoughts and a camera.
Even when there are people about I am happy though. In fact, part of the fun for me sometimes is finding angles that frame out the people. This next photo looks like a quiet beach, right? It wasn’t, it was actually quite busy, and only moments before this shot there were kids playing in the sea by the rocks. It’s like a little challenge waiting for the “decisive moment” when everyone has buggered off for a split second. It might be almost a lie presenting the beach as empty when it was bustling with people, but the photo quite nicely captures how I felt on that day.
This was the year before, in Cornwall again. Again, a busy beach. There are a few people in little boats hidden behind that big rock, and one just out of the frame on the right handside. I was stood here for a while waiting for the right timing. This particular day Hannah had stopped back at the house we were staying in and I remember taking quite a long walk by myself.
This was taken with a pinhole camera the year before that again. I was getting some bemused looks from a couple to the right of me as I set my tripod up in the water. I knew exactly how I wanted this photo to come out, and despite not shooting much pinhole it still worked exactly as I wanted it. I have this photo as a background on my phone. I love Holywell Bay where is was taken, and it reminds me of that place and the fun I was having taking the image.
This was taken in Devon the year before. I lost my wedding ring in the sand this day and didn’t realise until the evening. Luckily I managed to find a local man with a metal detector and we worked out the area for him to comb to find it. I didn’t even know I had lost it when I took this photo – but that holiday, and specifically that beach, will always remind me of the horror of losing it and the relief when it was found.
This image was taken the year before on a cliff walk with Hannah when she was pregnant with my youngest. We went on holiday with her parents, again to Holywell bay. This was an evening when we left Connie with the inlaws to get some time to ourselves. I remember how peaceful it was – it felt like a bit of calm before the storm of introducing another baby into our lives.
This last image was taken the day before, and is probably the image that sticks in my head as being the first successful seascape I took. It also remains one of my favourite photos. I took it with my Leica iiia and Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5. I have labeled all of the cameras I used on the photos above – I remember them all without having to look them up… but the camera/lens really stick in my mind with this shot as I remember wondering how well I could get away with shooting it at f/3.5. I then spent a lot of the holiday wondering how well it would come out – I was overwhelmingly happy with the outcome when I got it back.
Some of the joy in all this is how this feels like an ongoing project with just one or two images being added to it each year – it’s about as slow a growing collection of images I could make. Some are probably more successful than others, and I guess they have fairly limited appeal to other people. I’m no expert in this field, nor do I have any desire to be.
Regardless of how good or otherwise they are as images though, the rest of the joy is in the fact that they are treasure troves of memories to me. And however much I describe the stories that are hidden in them, nothing of the story is ever going to be visible to anyone else who looks at them, so no one will never be able to completely understand what they mean to me. In short, these photos have a value that is only relevant to me, and somehow that makes them feel all the more special.
This is in fact part of my conclusion in the forthcoming article about photography not being a competition. As photographers I think we sometimes think a little bit too much about what our images might mean to other people, when in fact their real power is in what they can mean to ourselves.
Having written this, I finally got around to adding a new gallery of images to my website too – which feels like a good thing even if no one apart from me ever looks at it.