“These last few months have been quite frustrating work-wise, and each day, I’ve woken up with a sense of paralysis. Being a photographer is such a big part of who I am, that without the click of a shutter, I feel that I don’t exist, or not fully. Two large projects are on hold, with international travel all but suspended – and, as is familiar to almost everyone right now, a sense of interminable morosity pervades each waking minute.
* * * * * * * * *
I burst a teabag accidentally, and poured it down the sink. A gush of annoyance at a simple failure. Grandmaster Flash popped up on Spotify. The lyrics more fitting than ever:
Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from going under
As I nodded in agreement, I realised that things were not going to change themselves. Perhaps it was time to revisit the familiar, to get back on the road, to chase that elusive thrill of a stranger-meeting. So I headed for the edges, the edges of everything – familiar edges, and strange edges – a journey around the coast that hems us in, a formidable barrier, a strip of possibility.
As the island nation, the coast is more than a physical boundary. It’s a psychological space, and identity. Our 7723 miles of edge keeping us in, and as the news continuously reminds us, others out. Brexit. Desperation in rubber dinghies. And now, Covid-19.
But for me, the coast has another element – it is the meeting point for all of us, the end of the road, a melding of all that is British, into a sense of ubiquity. North, South, East, West. There is a similarity in all corners, more of a sense of collective identity than anywhere else. Each seaside town is an amalgamation of tastes arising from the tumbleweed arriving there from every corner. For so long, these peripheral areas have felt stuck in a kind of languishing stasis, at odds with progress. But now, in the midst of a pandemic, they take on a new potency – they are the accidental winners. A tide turning visibly as once-derided B&Bs fill to capacity. Puffy wallpaper, greasy Richmond sausages, and budget white kettles infused with a new sense of life, as we swap cheap flights for road trips, and rediscover parochial charm.
The sporadic sounds of 2p coins falling off the ledge and clattering into the chute below; the dull, hollow, thud of the slot machine’s buttons; the electronic bleeps as the grab arm gently caresses the soft-toys that you’ve wasted a fiver on, and predictably not winning; the trundle of the slush puppy machine, and the hum of the Mr Whippy machine struggling against the heat of the British summer. Simple pleasures, predictable, unwavering.”
In a sea of uncertainty, there is comfort in old favourites, and these journeys have reminded me of why I love photography – sometimes, just sometimes, cementing a moment on celluloid allows a renewed appreciation of the banal. For a moment being stuck doesn’t seem so bad, and while we are all trapped on our tiny island, there is some comfort in finding similarities rather than differences.
This is the coastal town / That they forgot to close down / Armageddon, come Armageddon! / Come, Armageddon! Come!