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Edges Drifting: Shingle Street

Shingle Street is a small remote coastal hamlet at the mouth of Orford Ness, connected via Hollesley village situated between the ancient town of Orford and the small manor town of Bawdsey.

Shingle Street itself consists of a row of cottages of varying age in a minimalist and haunting shingle landscape. It was established as a community of fishing families and river pilots for the River Ore in the early 19th century. The four Martello towers south of Shingle Street were built in 1808-1809. Coastguard cottages at the North end of the beach housed coastguards who worked as pilots, lifeboatmen and excise men to control the smuggling. In the 1930s it became an important place for remote tourism when several of the houses remaining today were built. During World War II this area of the coast was one of the main lines of defence and several buildings were destroyed, including the Lifeboat Inn, the hamlet’s only pub.

Today many of the cottages are picturesque, and include a number of holiday lets. An important feature is the Shell Line artwork created by two friends who visited during recovery from cancer. It has since been continually maintained as a prominent local landmark. The settlement has also inspired music and poetry. There are also a number of historical and environmental books by local people, and a Facebook page for people who visit regularly – discussing issue like fishing, local developments etc.

The settlement is part of a very fragile and unique coastal strip. The beach is a designated SSI because of its rare vegetated shingle, little terns, saline lagoons and geology. A report from October 2004 suggested that Shingle Street is at risk from the sea and could disappear by 2024 if sea defences are not erected. North Sea windfarms can be seen in the distance on a fine days. Current proposed development of the area around nuclear power at Sizewell and the current Freeport proposals for Felixstowe and Harwich also mean that the whole area will change significantly in the coming years.

My understanding of the place has changed and deepened since my first visit in January 2020 on the eve of Brexit. My first very bleak impressions in my dark mood of post-Brexit alienation from anything English – heightened by the multiple Union Jacks on the deserted brown grey shingle where the only features were the shrivelled pillars of mullein. But on repeat visits at different times of the year I have come to really feel at home in the constantly changing environment where colours change dramatically with the seasons – flower cycles that transform the landscape, bird migrations and bird song and favourite times for colourful kites as holiday-makers join local people. 

Edges Shifting present a subjective creative exploration of the details as well as 'bigger picture' issues that have shaped my own shifting feelings about staying as an outsider in a place quite close to home, but so very different.

'Shingle Exhibition' Aldeburgh Ballroom Arts May 17th - 23rd 2023 brings together photographs, prints and books.

Through the Window Pane: a photobook from a week stay in one of the holiday cottages along the shingle in the first week of October 2022. I was unable to walk very far because of an ankle and hip problem. The book documents the ever changing light, weather and views from the window. Contrasting the complete economic and political turmoil in the world beyond the shingle that I watched on the TV screen and reported in the local press. It is currently being market-tested in two formats - large square hard back coffee table copy and a much cheaper small square book with soft cover.

Cracks in the Edge: is a photo narrative from the same week stay taking a journey of imagination inspired by abstracted photographs of edges and reflections on objects inside the cottage. It is currently being market-tested in two formats - large landscape hard back copy and three cheaper small square soft cover books as a trilogy.

Shingle Song (forthcoming 2024): a book of poetry written in and about Shingle Street and illustrated by sketches using tools from the beach and abstract gelli-plate monoprints. Based on sketchbooks, photography, video and notes 2020-2022. This is still at the experimental stage for further development in future visits to Shingle Street 2023 and 2024. The portfolio is included here because the cross-media experimentation was central background to my more resolved photographic work.

See also: 

Shingle: Exhibition portfolio May 2023: documentary and creative photography from psychogeography photography and video 'derives' around Shingle Street and Aldeburgh 2021-2023 for joint art exhibition with painter Howard Andrews to be held in Aldeburgh Ballroom Arts Gallery May 17th-23rd 2023.

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