Magazine article Geographical

Peerless Landmarks: From Graphic Lines to Riotous Colours, Britain's Numerous Seaside Piers Offer a Wealth of Photographic Elements. and with the Warm Weather upon Us, This Is a Great Time to Get out and Capture These Coastal Icons

Magazine article Geographical

Peerless Landmarks: From Graphic Lines to Riotous Colours, Britain's Numerous Seaside Piers Offer a Wealth of Photographic Elements. and with the Warm Weather upon Us, This Is a Great Time to Get out and Capture These Coastal Icons

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The pleasure pier has been an iconic feature of the British seaside for nearly 200 years, and despite numerous challenges posed by fire, storms, collisions, wars and changing holiday habits, it continues to be a popular attraction for the nation's sun seekers. While the British Isles are renowned the world over for changeable weather, many forget that it was Great Britain that 'invented' the seaside holiday, a fashion established when George IV-as Prince Regent--moved to Brighton in 1783 for regular seaside dips to combat his glandular neck swelling.

Following that royal endorsement, it wasn't long before the rest of London society began making regular journeys to the Sussex coast for prescribed therapy, or a simple seaside frolic. However, before the age of a national rail network, the journey had to be made by road, which was arduous, or by ship. However, many moorings were only accessible at high tide, until the idea was born to design an extremely long pier to accept landing craft at any time.

The first great pier to be built was at Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Designed by John Kent of Southampton, it opened in 1814 as a mooring for local sailing boats. Many extensions were made during the Victorian era to accept larger passenger vessels making daily crossings of the Solent, and a railway was added for alighting ferry passengers wishing to continue their journey into the isle by train.

PEOPLE STUDIES

While Ryde Pier Head remains a busy transport junction, the rest of Britain's piers are unashamed tourist attractions, home to arcade-style amusement, refreshment and entertainment. They make ideal locations for depicting the public's relationship with the seaside, offering an array of vivid images thanks to the bright colours of postcards, candyfloss, slot machines, swimming costumes and sunburn.

For this type of social photography, the work of Martin Parr provides inspiration. He's a master of creating a tableaux of candid scenes in a landscape of saturated colour, a result given emphasis by the use of flash to add illumination to any shaded colours.

To pursue a similar course, you need only have a modest range of lens focal lengths at your disposal--a standard zoom lens will suffice--and handhold the camera to obtain as many 'grabshots' as possible; setting up a tripod will only draw attention to yourself.

The built-in flash of a typical SLR only provides adequate fill-in for a limited distance, so invest in a more powerful, dedicated flashgun with variable output settings and tilt-and-shift movements. You will soon learn to gauge the optimum flash range at different output settings by checking your results on the camera monitor.

CHALLENGING COMPOSITIONS

There are 55 piers dotted around Britain's coastline, each an unmissable landmark. Most are grand, elongated Victorian structures, cutting a decisive line across the sea from an otherwise gentle, ebbing shoreline. Promenade and pavilion are supported above the waves by hundreds of sunken piles that can stretch out to sea for more than a kilometre, seemingly on a collision course with the horizon. In this compositional space, the pier creates a graphic diagonal line that gives depth and dynamism to the picture.

For the photographer, two key decisions are choice of lens and proximity to the pier. The latter is largely determined by local geography. For instance, two of Britain's most photographed piers--Brighton in West Sussex and Saltburn on the North Yorkshire coast--have hugely contrasting approaches and, as a consequence, their favoured viewpoints are strikingly different. Brighton is one of the country's most popular piers, set against a gently sloping shingle beach, easily reached from a raised promenade. Steps lead down to the beach where many pictures of the 536-metre pier are taken by the thousands of sun seekers who flock there during summer. …

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