Strange Lands

Dungerness Landscape-15.jpg

Shot with the X100F

Concrete and steel, three grey giants looking out to sea, thrumming. Towering pale grey breeze-blocks to bruise a fist upon, sculpted with all the beauty of a car battery, they each sit upon the shingle beach with the stuff of miniature suns churning deep in their bellies. At their feet where the pipes run into the sea, birds and fish flock to the warmth of the boil. 

Turn your back to them and before you ramshackle huts dot the beach. Shacks built from driftwood and brittle-seeming cottages, each of them likely older than the great machines, and each holding its ground, stubborn in its own solitary fashion. 

I cannot do the giants justice. They have an ugly magnificence that cannot be captured. I pocket my camera and walk on down the beach. There's a strange sky overhead that hangs heavy, a flat horizon on all sides, a stillness in the air. Looking up and down the beach I see that each structure stands alone, like a statement. Here a control tower with balconies and wide glass cockpit converted into a home; a tough sale for an agoraphobic. There a tumbledown wooden hut penned in behind concrete and chicken-wire, hunched like an animal licking its wounds. A ways along and Derek Jarman's cottage with its black tar walls graven with John Donne, windows with blazing sunflower yellow trim, a garden of wiry plants digging hungrily for salt. 

Driftwood and steel, fishing nets and control rods, seabirds and minefields. You can listen to the crash of the waves and the soft crump of distant artillery fire. Look at the metal shipping containers beached like whales. Giant concrete mirrors facing the continent to snatch at the sound of incoming bombers. 

These are strange lands.

Dungerness Landscape-12.jpg

Dungerness Landscape-5.jpg

Naturally in such an unnatural place there are photographers. As evening approaches I see two lads experimenting with flashbulbs and long exposures down by the husk of a ship. Elsewhere a man in an anorak clatters his shutter away at swooping seabirds with a lens longer than his arm whilst a bearded man with headphones shambles past, sweeping the ground with a metal detector. Photographers and treasure hunters, quietly seeking something in this wilderness. Yet it has not always been so peaceful. Bickering time-travelling dwarves and alien spaceships, screaming Tilda amidst the flames and NIcki Minaj - this beach has seen it all.

They call it Dungeness, it's old Norse for headland. On the southernmost tip of England it's a spit of strangeness jutting out into nowhere and being there on a quiet afternoon under a hazy sky I felt further away from anywhere than I'd ever felt in my life. It's like walking the pages of a J. G. Ballard novel. Pacing the length and breadth I found myself clutching my camera like a talisman, soft shutter clicks so as not to disturb.  

After all, I'd only seen the surface. Who knew what strangeness lay sleeping underfoot in that place, that beach at the end of the world...? 


Dungerness Landscape-35.jpg