The current prolonged spell of fine, dry weather here in the south east of England, may not be very good for the water table, but it provides an excellent opportunity for plenty of photography practice.
Once again, I set off for the North Kent coast, to walk a new section of it. This time from Birchington-on-Sea to Broadstairs, walking round the easternmost tip of the county.
a Dada landscape
The soft chalk cliffs that make up this part of the coast are prone to erosion, so they’re defended by a lot of concrete and stone. So much so, that it’s possible to walk much of this coastline on Tarmac, without ever having to risk dipping one’s toes in the briny. As a result, this area is a curious half-and-half blend of natural and manmade features, giving the area a surreal look and the feel of an empty stage set. The derelict Victorian and 1920’s masonry around Margate, significantly adding to the effect.
Herne Bay may be (in)famous for being the retirement capital of the South East, but care homes and bungalowed estates extend along much of this part the north Kent coast. Around here, it’s genteel and gentle, mild mannered and inoffensive, restrained, civil although, in truth, it’s ersatz bucolic. It’s the kind of scene you would expect the retirement ideal to be and Burchington, if anything, is the archetype. Pleasant houses, pleasant roads, pleasant scenery and pleasant people, who will say a cheery hello to a stranger – as long as that stranger is not too strange.
Walking west, the retirement estates merge into the faded glamour of Margate, once a proud and popular holiday destination and nowadays often the butt of seaside jokes about decline and despair. But the old town is staging a fight back and, with the just-opened Turner Contemporary gallery, is beginning to show signs of new cultural aspirations. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more work to be done and the sky-blue sheds by the harbour, signifying the town’s artistic rebirth, are so far its only manifestation. Moving on, one encounters Victorian and early twentieth century dereliction – the vestiges of a funicular railway, the ghost of a lido – that will take a lot more than lottery money to fix. Nonetheless, from a photographer’s perspective it’s an artistic goldmine and it’s something I’ll be back to pursue soon.
Once you’ve rounded Foreness Point, the cliffs rise a little higher and moving on, past the relatively secluded sandy beaches of Botany Bay, you encounter the posh private housing estates around North Foreland. Where enormous houses vie with the nearby Kingsgate Castle for top prize in the ostentation stakes.
The last segment of the walk takes you along another secluded sandy beach, bordered by a broad tarmac-topped swathe of concrete protecting the cliffs of East Cliff from the ravages of the North Sea. After a short while, you see the castellated top of Bleak House looming above the cliff tops and pretty soon you’re in the car park by the harbour and you find yourself looking out over the little harbour and bay at the bustling beachfront of Broadstairs. Journey’s end and time for a very welcome pint.
On this walk, I found I was photographing the actual route, as I had done on my first few walks. Even though I’d told myself I would concentrate on getting fewer, more considered photos of the things I encountered along the way. I just found the impulse to record the brilliant, still weather and its effect on the route through this landscape impossible to resist. Every few metres, it seemed, I stopped and snapped the scene. If nothing else, it’s good research for future projects.
The practice you get from shooting few hundred, rather than a few dozen, pictures is definitely beneficial. There are more opportunities to experiment and fluffing an individual shot is far less catastrophic. Handling a quirky, manual camera like the M9, quickly becomes more instinctive with frequent practice – as I learned the opposite after not going out for few weeks. Being able to think less about the camera’s operation frees you up to consider your artistic intent in more depth.
I’m still finding the M9’s viewfinder at 28mm a bit of a pain. I can’t take in the whole image without sweeping my eye around the viewfinder and my preference is to compose images tightly and use the full frame for my photos, with a minimum of cropping in the final image. There are a couple of things I can try to ameliorate this, (maybe use this instead) but they cost money and that’s something that’s not in plentiful supply right now. I guess I’ll have to try harder to refine my technique.
It was a good walk which provided excellent practice along with exceptionally fine weather and plenty of exercise. The route of the walk is here. This time around, I didn’t follow any recommended route as this pathway is pretty straightforward.