Saturday, 26 February 2011

Life's a beach

This week we have been away to the east coast.  We booked an apartment in Bridlington overlooking the sea.  Idyllic - but wet, and windy - sometimes it's quite nice when the weather is pants as you can just do nothing without feeling guilty. I was hoping for more opportunities for street photography but given the weather, people stayed indoors.  However, I still think I now have enough material to complete assignment four...and some final images of the 'shanty town' at Skipsea which may form part of my portfolio for social documentary.

The rate of erosion is nothing short of astounding at Skipsea and each visit I make, I leave shocked and in awe of nature's power.   Seventy years ago this coastal lane (just off Hornsea Road - see google maps, search Skipsea, Hornsea Road or try this link (thank you Duncan)) was an enviable location with magnificent sea views overlooking sandy beaches.  Over the years, as the weather has eroded the cliff, the once desirable holiday retreats have either fallen in to the sea or the owners have resolutely reassembled them further back on their diminishing plots. Personally I am fascinated by this lane which exudes an industrious milieu of human ingenuity, resilience, resourcefulness and fierce stubborness.

Holiday homes is perhaps misleading as a definition of their latter-day existence, but equally its nickname of 'shanty town' is a little unnecessarily harsh. There is clear evidence that residents improve, recycle and make use of cheap or waste materials, but squatters or impoverished they are not. Amongst them, was an artist in residence, Safforn Waghorn, she exhibited 'Tides of R-evolution' by way of a celebration of the sixty year cliff-top community. No further justification than the location itself is needed to appreciate why the residents have persevered despite its precariousness.

I strangely adore the charm of this spot. I have been visiting since October 2008 so have only visited it for a short time and sadly only in its demise.  Within that time the existing line of 'homes' that were standing precariously 'on the edge' have disappeared.  Within just over two years nigh on ten or more metres of the coast has been lost (they say on average it is a metre a year whatever that means). It is the fastest eroding coastline in Europe but this past two years has been phenomenal even given its reductive history. This time, the sea, the frost, the rain and indeed the council have not only taken the land where the houses were, but also the road is now being nibbled away. It is no longer stable for cars. This photo was taken in October 2008. The coast lies to the left of this hut.

As the land is eroding, residents have literally reassembled their dwellings further back or chopped them up if part of the building had collapsed in to the sea.  I recall vividly speaking to one resident who lived there at the time, saying he left his car running on particularly stormy nights!!  I have been quite interested in time lapse photography of Cliff Road, however, given the nature of the land, to photograph from the same spots each time has been impossible.  However, the fence line on the right and the dead tree are reference points in the picture above and below.  The photo below was taken last week.

I don't normally photograph black and white, but somehow because this is an historical record, I prefer the monochrome aesthetic.  The following two pictures show a different perspective, again, both taken at roughly the same spot two years apart.

I am totally fascinated by this place and feel quite sad that its existence is almost gone.  It has so much character and life, such organic and 'clumsy' development is so rarely seen or allowed on our shores. This particular place and my photographic record of it is sadly drawing to a close, although I know I won't be able to resist going back.

Following Eileen's observant eye (thank you), it appears this spot was used in filming 'South Riding' currently on BBC 1.  This is the tram below that had to be moved by a crane after a violent storm. Below is the road to the left of which the tram used to reside until no less than 18 months ago!! Check out this link here.


  1. Scary stuff!
    I just tried Google Maps, superimposing the road over the aerial (satellite?) image, the road is shown sticking out over the beach in places.

  2. Hi Duncan, thanks for that. I've just checked it out too. Looking at it, the road name isn't on. It is the row of houses south of Hornsea Road. I don't know when this google satelite image was taken but it looks nothing like that now!!

  3. Hey Duncan. The link above isn't right. Do you know how to save searches? If you put Skipsea Hornsea Road in google maps, it comes up. The google photos show the exact same road too. Can't quite believe how much has gone!!

  4. A fascinating place - I can understand why you keep coming back. This looks very like one of the settings in South Riding. So much so that I thought it might have been filmed there but on reading the story I imagine health and safety would have ruled filming out. Is there any connection?

  5. Hi Eileen. I thought exactly the same when I watched it and thought it couldn't be, until you mentioned it now and I have just checked. Have a look at this link
    It is the very same place. This is the tram that had to be moved by a crane because of a bad storm. How weird is that!!! I've been trying to find the date as it must have been a least a year ago that it was filmed. I've added a picture at the bottom of the post with a recent picture of it. Fab, thanks Eileen.

  6. Try this for a link,-3.532214&sspn=0.60115,1.540833&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Hornsea+Rd,+Skipsea,+Driffield,+North+Humberside+YO25,+United+Kingdom&ll=53.976187,-0.197303&spn=0.004777,0.012038&t=h&z=17

    Hint: Don't copy the URL from the browser address bar, instead use the "Link" button over on the right hand side.

  7. Try this for a link:,-3.532214&sspn=0.60115,1.540833&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Hornsea+Rd,+Skipsea,+Driffield,+North+Humberside+YO25,+United+Kingdom&ll=53.976187,-0.197303&spn=0.004777,0.012038&t=h&z=17

    It seems the URL from the web browser address bar does not work but there is a "Link" button on the right hand side that gives the correct URL.

  8. Thanks Duncan. I have just found your posts - I guess because of the link they were in my spam. I shall try this. Many thanks.

  9. I was pleased to read Eileen's observations as I too was thinking "Ive seen this somewhere before". What an amazing location and gorgeous photographs Penny. I love the way you semi desaturate or part tint, ime not sure what you do but it is well done and suits the place. I had read about a similar technique in B&W Photography magazine, had a go but couldnt say it worked for me becouse I didnt have the right subject. Did you shoot any on the Ebony ?

  10. PS. Penny, are you going to FOCUS ?

  11. Hi Nigel. Yes the partial colour is my reluctance to go full black and white, but I do quite like the muted colours too. A little playing in photoshop with the colour saturation, contrast and levels is all I did with these. None taken with the large format - I'm loading provia 160nc which is more portrait than landscape film, but I have heard they're doing away with nc and vc which will be great for me so you can do landscapes and portraits using the same film. They decided that most people scan and manipulate the colours after anyway so there is no need for a highly saturated film. I'm also not in the habit of carrying it around everywhere yet, I sort of fall back on the digital like a comfort blanket!!

    No, I won't be at Focus - spend too much sitting in my office at home, can't imagine what damage I would do if I went there. I am instead going to Derby on the 4th March though, really looking forward to that!

  12. Not the 4th, what am I talking about - the 12th March

  13. I grew up in skipsea and while there is a rustic decay quality in photography the reality is that these houses were built without planning permission by people largely not from the area (most from west yorkshire), and I'm my view have ruined the cliff top and beach with debris.

    There also has been a fair amount of criminal element living there, in the 80's there was a scrapyard which had more than a few nicked cars passs through, in the lakebed area with little cart rails.

    I've know a few dodgy charachters up there nicking from the campsites and farms locally and personally I'll be glad when the sea washes the shanty town away for good

  14. Interesting response, Flambemcready. I too spent a lot of my childhood in Skipsea and the Shanty Town was always a bit a mystery but there was open hostility whenever my family and I walked through - coupled with a warning sign about it being a private road. Quite a cheek for the occupants to warn people away when they probably didn't pay any rates!!