on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Basic Training at North Sands

Chris Pattison discusses his formative years as a photographer at North Sands, Hartlepool

It was in October 2006 that I first set out to North Sands to take my first ‘proper’ landscape photographs. Armed with a tripod, some Cokin filters, and, oh yeah, a camera, I drove in the darkness along Cemetery Road, past skeletal remains of disused factory buildings and parked at the gates of the Victorian cemetery. Walking past gravestones is perhaps not the most inviting of ways to begin an adventure into landscape photography, but that’s how it started for me.

Once I skidded down the dunes and onto the beach at North Sands I was in another world. I set up my new tripod, fumbled around with numb fingers, trying to remember to set plenty of depth of field, and I let the camera set the shutter speed.

Branch and Jetty was the result of this debut outing. How lucky I was for that branch to be washed up there in such a perfect position. And the light! It would be a while before I made an image that satisfied me as much, but I was hooked. I was amazed that I could take images like this here at home in Hartlepool. It was a revelation. This light was everywhere, and anywhere is transformed in such light. I only had to travel a couple of miles to practice landscape photography, to study the light and to find new subjects on this small stretch of beach near my home. It was a place where I could experiment, learn and develop. Seeing as I had recently started a family, getting away on indulgent photographic trips leaving my wife, then girlfriend, holding the baby, were out of the question, so North Sands was my basic training ground.

This beach is no idyllic golden stretch of Northumberland sand though. A vast dilapidated coastal factory sits behind the dunes here. It’s a bloody mess, and its detritus finds its way onto the sand. Stuff gets washed up from ships. Sanitary waste appears when there’s a high tide and when there has been heavy rain. Fine particles of sea coal get deposited leaving a 1cm thick blanket of blackness across the beach. It’s this kind of thing that suggests why this coastline gets bypassed by photographers on their way north to Northumberland or south to the North Yorkshire coast.

I’ve enjoyed the challenge of dealing with the above, and I’ve no doubt it has contributed to my development as a photographer. Finding the frame can be a challenge here, but as time went on I found I could not turn my back on the ugly and unpleasant. I have ended up recording it as well as the beautiful scenes and have discovered a strange beauty in items washed ashore, or dumped on the sand.

So why go to the same location time and time again? Well, convenience certainly plays a role. If I’m pushed for time, I can be here in minutes. Joe Cornish has Roseberry Topping and I get a slightly soiled beach! Also, no two days are ever the same; the light is always different, the tide changes and the state of the sea changes. The prevailing weather conditions change everything again. Also, you never know when something interesting is going to get washed up. There is always something new to learn, practice or discover. I’ve grown to love this place, warts and all.

You can see more of Chris Pattison's work at landskywater.com

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