The initial impression Longshore Drift gave me was of dancing ephemera. The beached bric-a-brac standing to attention in a fleeting moment of unison only to be lost moments later. After further consideration, I started to see a less joyful image. A sense of melancholy emerged through these arrangements. Melancholy for a leisure hotspot slowly forgotten by a social context that moves further and further beyond. Melancholy for a coastline that recedes further and further every year.
Bridlington, the location of the beach where these objects were gleaned, once served as a popular seaside resort. In the mid 19th century, working-class families from the West Riding woollen industry were afforded significant enough leisure time to take holidays. The obvious choice for pleasure pursuits was to flee to the nearby seaside, train travel at this time was still a relative luxury. This newfound leisure industry saw towns such as Scarborough, Cleethorpes and Bridlington boom. Bridlington had always been a fishing port, but the tourist industry saw the town go in economic clout. Working-class leisure became an important industry for many coastal areas of the UK. Around a hundred years later, European holidays in sunny locations such as the Costa del Sol became more popular, as air travel became more and more financially accessible. The allure of warm weather inevitably drew people away from the unpredictability of the British climate.
Collecting objects while wandering is always some kind of nostalgic act. These pictures become a document of a nostalgia in waiting. As a project, Longshore Drift is an attempt to hold the act of wandering, a sign of trying to cling to something. In The Rings of Saturn W G Sebald wandered the Norfolk coast in order to remember his European history, images of past and present mixed to produce a complex representation of a place and a man within it. Sebald’s use of image and text form a metaphor for the complexity of remembering places while experiencing the present. The images of Longshore Drift, first conceived some 200 miles north of where Sebald wrote his novel, almost works in reverse to Sebald’s practice. The collected objects are arranged and photographed to try and understand a present, to try and disambiguate the flood of memories and images that come when walking along a beach that you know will not be there forever, mourning an environment that cannot be the same again.
Facing full exposure to the North Sea, Bridlington is part of a coastline that is fast disappearing. Estimated at a loss of 200 meters over the last century, this coast has suffered economic loss of declining tourism, outlined above, as well as ecological loss. Of course these factors play into each other. Humans try and stave off erosion by constructing sea defence, this simply shifts the problem rather than solving it. To try and save a coast to help people, which will only affect other coasts, affecting other people, seems an illogical approach to the complex issue environmental preservation. When costs shift people will lose their homes, but homes were built for an appreciation of the coast. These might seem like macro level relationships to some, but when considered on a geological scale they appear totally micro. Two ways of thinking about the bridlington coast arise, two time scales, human time versus coastal time. The human history of tourism feels out of date, English coastal holidays often seem like a thing of the past, but 100 years in geological time is nothing, a split second for the sea. When trying to halt time we just see it slipping through our fingers, the sands of time too granular for our perception, too fine for our grasp.
Photographs normally capture moments on the move. Longshore Drift is an attempt to grasp at a time we cannot see because it is too slow. Photography is used here to freeze a time we are not patient enough to recognise. Picking up these objects, arranging them so that their forms make sense together is picking up clues to a fleeting experience, an abstract temporal experience we are part of but cannot recognise. The practice involved in the making of Longshore Drift offers as an index to a nostalgic wander across a coast already unrecognisable. The series essentially poses a question of how to reconcile various forms of time and history, urgent in their own ways, both out of a single life’s reach.
Text by Henry Mulhall
Art Direction & Styling by Daniel Hubbard
Photography by Lewis Rhodes