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Dungeness Distressed by Kevin Power

3rd July 2024

Dungeness Distressed by Kevin Power

Thinking Inside The Boxes

'... the photographic opportunities will not always be immediately obvious.'

Was the general guidance from Light & Land tutors Ed Rumble and Tom Sullam as we approached Dungeness as part of our South Coast tour. In fact, there were several obvious candidates, such as one of the lighthouses, the boardwalk to the beach and some quirky residences, and these were dutifully captured by the group before we started to disperse. Tuned out there was a lot to explore. 

Dungeness Desert Deserted

The Met Office classified Dungeness as Britian's only desert, owing to the dry climate, great expanses of single and poor soil that discourages growth. Strewn across this unpromising landscape is a mish-mash of houses (of no common design), huts, boats, machinery, (most of it of unfathomable function), tractors, shipping containers, vehicles, fishing apparatus, and small gauge railway lines to nowhere. All of this in various stages of, but usually well advanced, decay. 

No people. I could see huge trucks in the distance moving tons of shingle from one place to another, but otherwise nothing moved. 

Nothing moved either in the enormous nuclear station that seemed to glower over the whole landscape, no longer having a useful purpose as a reason for its brutal presence. 

It's Got To Be A Collage Kevin 

At dinner the previous evening Ed and Tom had tabled the idea that a number of images might be a good approach to try to convey some of level of feeling for the area, and in response I shred this collage from a previous trip as an example. 

After trying a number of wide angle vistas, mid-range shots and also isolating closeups of various items and buildings, I understood their view. Certainly no single image of mine was going to work.

After about an hour of aimless wandering, whilst wondering, Ed showed me some phone close-ups he'd just taken of faded graphics and textures from old containers which looked very interesting. It was obvious that these could be combined into some form of harmonious collage, but also that alone they would not convey enough of the wider Dungeness context. 

Dungeness Distressed by Kevin Power

Fun with Fujifilm

All of the images in the collage were taken on a recently acquired Fujifilm X100V. Whilst my main camera is a Nikon D850, I had swapped to the Fuji halfway through the afternoon  in the hope that the limitations of the fixed lens would force me to take a different and hopefully more productive approach. 

I had already tried some double exposures on the X100V prior to joining the tour, with varying success. More from frustration than inspiration I decided to try overlaying the lovely textures from the old containers on to shots of the physical landscape. 

I'm aware that I could have just taken the source images and merged then in Photoshop later, but I wanted immediate indication as to whether this approach might work. In fact, using layers in Photoshop always remains an option as the X100V retains the source images as RAW files: however, the combined image is only saved as a JPEG. During this session I used the Velvia Film simulation. 

Below as the two source images for the main cell in collage. I knew the frame in the first image would make a good ... er... framing device, but for what? The power station seemed a good choice as it would help anchor the combined image in Dungeness, and I liked the odd juxtaposition of ‘Quality Meat Products' with a nuclear installation. 

Dungeness Distressed by Kevin Power
Dungeness Distressed by Kevin Power

I recognised at the time that it would have been better to have the power plant larger in the frame, and probably should have done one of :- swapped to the D850 with its 120mm zoom lens; or deferred forming the combined image until working in Photoshop; or walked a mile closer to the buildings. The satisfaction of immediately generating a usable image in the camera, coupled with general laziness, led to me accepting the combined image as it appears in the final collage. (Although it didn't occur to me at the time, I’ve since checked it does not appear possible to adjust an image in a multi-exposure set prior to committing to the final combined image in the X100V).

The source images for the bottom right tractor cell were: -

Dungeness Distressed by Kevin Power
Dungeness Distressed by Kevin Power

Forming The Final Collage

The basic decisions are clearly: - a) how many images b) which images; c) which crops of selected images: d) what size and arrangement of cells. Then there needs to be an overarching theme, a common colour palette and a consistent post-processing approach. 

I selected a range of images that I believed individually would offer sufficient individuality, content and details to bear closer examination by the viewer, whilst also hopefully contributing to the overall sense of decay and desolation that I wished to convey with the whole collage. 

Here are some examples of doble exposures I took during the same sessions, and which I quite like, but which I felt did not work in the context of the collage.

Dungeness Distressed by Kevin Power
Dungeness Distressed by Kevin Power
Dungeness Distressed by Kevin Power

Once I had selected and processed each of my source images, I imported a standard Photoshop collage template having my preferred number of cells and arrangement. Within the template each cell is treated as a separate layer into which you paste the selected image. Once in place I used the Edit -> Transform tools to move and resize the image within the cell. After 3-4 iterations I arrived at the final image shown. 

Image Critique: Ed Rumble 

Dungeness is an extraordinary landscape of contrasts. Both timeless but with markers everywhere of time's evolution. 

One can chart the passage of history that is woven into the landscape in the graduated state of decay amongst the fishing boats, machinery and paraphernalia littering the beach, from the gleaming and unseasoned to the decrepit and discarded. Yet paradoxically. it seems little has changed over the years. The giant, stoic shingle banks holding back the sea; the working boats, still launching from the beach with the same hopes for rich bounty as their forebears. There are the resilient, quirky wooden dwellings that shelter weathered residents behind yellowed net curtains. Yet, here and there, amongst them is a structure clearly revamped as an expensive Air B&B, standing with an upturned nose towards its shabby neighbours. It is an environment in constant flux that somehow stays the same. Time moves in a circle, not with linear momentum towards some unattainable idyll. What would that look like, anyway?

Kevin's image wonderfully captures this sense of time, evolution, decay and progress. 

There is an amusing nod to irony in the container stamps: the desirable 'Quality' and 'Gold' slowly fading and slipping from our grasp, no doubt eventually to become illegible and irrelevant. There is the old tractor, perhaps once a significant, prized capital purchase for a fisherman; now abandoned and gradually being eaten away. Yet, as in Kevin's image the nuclear power station looms over this landscape of nostalgia, reimposing notions of modernity and progress. 

It is a landscape that, through the unrelenting elements, is ever consuming and reconstituting itself, yet it would still perhaps be recognisable by a resident of the last century. Kevin's clever, creative use of superimposing images onto one another captures this beautifully. One image fades and is subsumed into another; yet, crucially, we can still discern the vital elements of the landscape that identify it as unquestionably Dungeness. It's metaphysical essence. 

Then there are the lovely colour contrasts. Warm and cool tones which, as well as being visually pleasing, enhance and juxtapose feelings of romantic nostalgia with the exposed elemental reality of this place. There is also ambiguity and mystery, of course, in the abstract elements of the image and their lack of scale. Mysterious and intriguing, yes, but for me, containing a deeper metaphor of an uncertainty and an unknowable future over which, relative to the forces of nature, we seemingly have little control. 

I know Kevin has won deserved competition garlands for his Dungeness Distressed work. From my own perspective, exploring his image transports me instantly back to Dungeness and I can, through his visual storytelling, recall me own experiences and responses to the landscape. One cannot ask more from a landscape photograph than that. 

Light and Land

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