Strangers By The Sea

"There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul."

Victor Hugo


Visiting the coast one afternoon, I'd rather naively hoped to find a completely empty stretch of shoreline. Unfortunately, the beach was scattered with people, all using the space for different things and all getting in the way when I tried to capture something that I liked. Stepping back to just watch for a while, I was struck by the comparative vastness of the environment - the immense ocean and sky dwarfing the people, making them look almost like toy figures in the distance. I was immediately reminded of paintings by L.S Lowry and some particular pieces by the artist Gary Bunt. Their work became an instant inspiration to me, and after a few lucky shots, I embarked on a very unexpected but exciting new project photographing people by the sea.

Created over the period of a couple of months, on three local beaches and in varying weather conditions, I spent as much of my time just looking as I did making images. I saw people walking, relaxing, eating, playing, reading, and some taking photographs themselves. People exercised, walked dogs, held babies, fished and even swam. There were couples, large families, groups of friends, some of whom were old and some young. I found myself particularly interested in the people that were on their own. At seemingly random points, somebody would turn and stare out towards the horizon. I wondered why they chose to stop where they did and what they might have been thinking at the time.

Although I must have seen thousands of people over the weeks, doing so from a distance meant not hearing them interact with each other. There were moments when it felt as if I was watching a silent film with the wind and the waves as the soundtrack. The more I watched, the more I enjoyed imagining people's stories - where they'd come from, their relationships, conversations, and reasons for being on the beach that day.

With each new shoot, I wondered why I'd never thought of doing something like this before. The colours and forms of the landscape juxtaposed with those of the people created a look that I'd never previously achieved in my pictures. Of course, capturing what I saw wasn't always easy - there were plenty of times when neither the people nor the light worked in my favour. The unpredictability of some of the camera techniques I used would also thwart me on many an occasion. But it was all worth it for the moments when things did work out, those times when the shapes, light, lines and colours were like a great team, working together to accomplish a goal.

As I reflected on my time spent making these images, I realised that there would be no obvious conclusion. I couldn't help thinking of all the people covering the same ground, going about their lives, long after my project had come to an end. Ultimately, however, I decided that I'd been a witness long enough - one evening, after the sun had set, I switched off my camera and went down to the water's edge myself. I walked along the shore until it got dark, and when I was the last person left on the beach, I knew it was finished.

I think of my completed series as a kind of illustration of our love affair with the coast. Putting it all together, I felt that the images I made under darker skies and threatening weather conditions had far greater visual impact, capturing much more of the emotion and mood I experienced while out shooting. As such, the majority of my final set of photos show people braving the elements to be down by the sea. Looking back at my pictures, I am also reminded of how small we are compared to the world around us, and of the forever complex connection we have with Mother Nature. Whatever you take from it, I hope you enjoy viewing my finished work.

View the series