For a couple of years before I moved to Australia, I had developed a growing interest in photography. Lacking proper opportunity to develop my skills in the UK, I took the opportunity to start practicing in depth once in Australia.
One particular trope was inserting myself into photos, trying to build some sense of drama or something artistic. Maybe it was a narcissistic streak, who knows? Some of the photos look peculiar now, and raise a self-deprecating chuckle or two, but I can also see some familiar elements that carry on to this day. Notably, there is a darker theme in some of these photos, which manifests now in my fiction writing more than my photography, but I guess it’s a universal artistic trait. It was also winter when I took these photos, so maybe that was an influence too.
Reflecting on it, I think I may have been more experimental back then than I am now, but with less focus. I was just keen to take photos of anything and everything, thinking less of composed form and more of pure trial and error. Back then my success to failure ratio was quite poor, but I probably second guessed myself a lot less than I do today. I miss that old me sometimes; innocent, green, but being more spontaneous.
Even though my maternal family originates from there, I’ve never felt that much affinity with Blackpool.
My experience of Blackpool was of a run down, has been town, dreaming of better days, slowly seeing out the passing of decreasing numbers of visiting ageing people who remember the town in its heyday. It was associated with dilapidation and drug use for a lot of people, with a faded atmosphere of yesteryear.
The most I ever got out of the town was enjoyment of the beach. While I saw little to warrant the historical moniker of Blackpool’s “golden sands”, I could take pleasure in the windswept bleakness, accentuated by the sharp cold weather of the north west of England.
The beach was dominated by the three piers, like outstretched fingers reaching for the sea, grasping for something that was gone. Like the town, they had an aged and rundown tone, left weatherworn from years of exposure and neglect.
One day, late on in winter, I took the opportunity to head to Blackpool for some photos. I was primarily interested in getting some long exposure shots of the sea, taking advantage of the fading light. The wind was biting, but there was little rain, just the spray of the sea.
The photo of the two piers captures for me the essence of the town. The reality, the dark frame in the foreground, seaweed hanging off, an old relic. Beyond, as though in the past, lies the full pier across a desolate beach, relatively pristine at a distance. It’s a false promise; the photographic equivalent of an unreliable narrator. One of my favourite photos.
When I first moved to Preston in 1990, the docks area was pretty much wasteland. There was very little there. Over time it became built up, with new flats and housing. There was a cinema we used to go to a lot.
At school I remember we were set work in technology classes based on the docks development. I had this idea of an underwater section, with domes to see in the water. No one told me about the algae problem the water has, and I shudder to think what people might see at the bottom these days.
Back in the day, the water in the docks could get high. One of my earliest memories in Preston is a windy day, waves were high, and a gust nearly blew me in! There was no barrier back then.
It could get busy. There was a Morrison’s supermarket that a lot of people used. There wasn’t much else to do. My folks thought it would benefit from some restaurants. I agreed, but wondered if there was enough demand in Preston to make it work. Lowest common denominator won out I guess, and so we got McDonalds instead.
I’m sure it was all very fancy when first built, but it just faded and became dull. It was safe at least, but then so was most of Preston. When I campaigned there for local councillor in 2004, I saw how the paint on the doors had lost their colour, as though no one had painted them in 15 years. We never got many votes there and it wasn’t really worth campaigning.
There’s a lot of history in the docks, and the nearby terraced houses. I saw an old photo, from Victorian times I think, with all the industry at the dock lands, and big chimneys in the distance. I could even see St Walburge’s church in the photo.
The last time I was there was night. It was quiet and still, probably how I remember it best. It never seemed to have the energy to be more.
Part of a wider selection of micro fiction, this is a short story, chronicling a nugget of my life. Some elements may be fiction, others may be real, but I’ll leave that to your imagination. Enjoy.
Standing high up on a whale watching platform, I watched these kids, playing on the shore at a desolate beach in wintry Warrnambool. They kept running at the tide, charging in. It looked like two boys and a girl, probably brothers and sister. She was the eldest, or tallest st least, and at first seemed to encourage her siblings. When she drifted away, one brother followed, and there was just this lone boy left on the sands. Contemplating the waves, crouched against the wind, it looked like he reached a moment and, raising a piece of wood, flung it forth into the surf. If the ocean had a view of the matter it did not give it, and continued with its tidal duty. The boy walked away, but I hope whatever he looked for from the sea he got. Those children disappeared, drifting out of sight, becoming one more moment that passes through the ether of life.
What is the purpose of a photo? Is it to tell a story? I don’t mean as an optional, I mean as a general characteristic. Are landscapes stories? Selfies? Abstract Neo-feminist cubism? (I may have made that last one up – I will google later to see if that exists).
Seriously though, I have seen some interesting photos unduly hampered by the descriptive that it tells a story, or, worse still, that a photo has failed to convey a positive impression but it lacks sufficient narrative.
I tend to take more abstract shots. Often landscapes and urban street shots, but generally my preference is for abstract. It’s never been my intention to tell a story through the casual manipulation of angle, light and framing of subject matter. At least, not deliberately.
I’m cutting this blog post short as I struggle to catch up on some writing. I am woefully behind on my intended word count and so need a little catch up.
Follow this link here for a bit more about story telling