Another Side work in progress 2

When documentary photographers take their cameras to the seaside they seem inevitably to aim them at the sun-and-fun-seekers, the holiday makers, the day trippers. After all, the seaside is where the British lose their inhibitions. If they are not drunkenly baring their sunburnt flesh they will be stoically enduring rain and hail.

The result, depending on both the photographer's intentions and the viewer's interpretation, can either be celebratory or cynically sneering. Take your pick.

This is not the full story of the British seaside. Tourists are summer visitors to the coast. Except on unseasonably warm weekends their migratory flocks are only to be seen between the Easter and August Bank Holidays. But that doesn't mean the seaside is deserted for the rest of the year. Far from it. During the autumn and winter the local residents reclaim their territory and can be found using the shore for all manner of activities.

While uninhibited holiday makers might be obvious there are less visible people for whom the seaside is a place of work. Besides those catering to the tourists, there are those who aim to keep them safe. There are also people who profit from the sea itself.

This project concentrates on a stretch of shore currently promoted as 'The Sefton Coast' (an invention of local political reorganisation in the 1970s) where the West Lancashire Coastal Plain meets the Irish Sea between Marshside in the north and Ainsdale in the south, of which Jean Sprackland said in Strands;

Of all the British coastline, this is hardly the prettiest or the most unspoilt: its sands are not the most golden, and there are no rock pools or hidden coves. Neither is it the most dramatic: no pounding surf, no rugged cliffs.

Central to this unprepossessing stretch of shoreline is Southport, the seaside resort which often feels like it is far from the sea. Southport's miles of golden sands are shrinking as saltmarsh performs a pincer movement on the town's pier, the advance from the north being almost complete. Heading south the encroaching marsh begins to fade past Birkdale while the shore towards Ainsdale and beyond remains sandy.

In poetic mood Sprackland went on to say that this “is a place of big skies and lonely distances, a shifting palette of greys and blues; a wild, edge-of-the-world place.” At low tide on a cold, damp day in winter it can certainly be a lonely place, and the palette, indeed, limited. Yet it continues to draw people: dog walkers, bird watchers, horse riders, kite boarders, foragers for coal and shrimp, hopeful treasure hunters with metal detectors.

For all that it can appear to be wilderness, out to sea on all but the foggiest of days can be seen the ever present gas rig sometimes appearing much closer than others depending on where you are and the condition of the light. A similar effect plays on the turbines of the wind farm in the Mersey estuary. Looking north, Southport's pier is an equally unavoidable break in the horizon line. View the seemingly empty horizon through binoculars and you may spot ships or channel markers.

Yet when the tide recedes a mile or more and the only figures to be seen are mere specks in the distance there is a sense of timelessness. It is easy to imagine how it must have been for hunters and foragers on this land thousands of years ago. Although they wouldn't have found nylon nets and plastic balls among the seaweed and shells of the strand line after a winter storm.

A pristine wilderness this is not, but it is untamed and untameable.

As a Sandgrounder I have always felt an affinity for Southport and have continued to be drawn to it during the off season since leaving the town. The closed tourist attractions and its then extensive sandy beach, were among my first photographic subjects.

After a break of thirty years I returned and began, sporadically and haphazardly at first, to document the environment and the people who frequent the shore during the colder, darker, half of the year. Towards the end of 2016 I decided to formalise my picture making and record the people who use the coast for recreation during the winter and the people for whom it is a place of work. The unseen seasiders.

With an ever increasing population there are inevitable conflicts over the management and use of land to which public access has been historically allowed. My concern is that this access, which I consider to be an important part of our cultural heritage, might come under threat. Which is, in part, why I feel compelled to document the activities which take place along this stretch of coast as a celebration of people's natural connection with the with the sea, sand and sky.

A connection which may lie in what Anthony Gormley (whose Another Place is situated a few miles to the south) said about this part of the world; that we “only really know who we are, and how we are, when we can see a horizon.”


All text and photographs by Dave Lumb

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