Single Figures at the Seaside

On a late summer’s day I took the train to Margate, a town close to the south-eastern tip of the UK. I was in Margate to visit Tate Contemporary to see an exhibition of Piet Mondrian. A post about the gallery and the exhibition must wait until another day.

I was also going to see the sea; for the first time this year. As I stepped off the train into warm hazy sunshine I felt a keen sense of anticipation. It took me back over thirty years to a time when we would be driving, with our two small children, towards the sea – on holiday or perhaps just on a day out – and four sets of eyes would be searching eagerly for that first sight of the sea. And someone would suddenly call out: ‘I saw it first’. I feel drawn to the sea: there’s something very special about looking out to sea, breathing in the smells, listening to the gentle wash of the waves, and gazing at that distant horizon.

A short walk from the station and there it was. A quiet sea that merged almost imperceptibly into the sky. The light was soft, the sea washed against the sand – ripples, not waves. It was a minimalist scene. I stood, lost in thought, and noticed a figure strolling the tide line, periodically stopping. A lady in a red top, white shorts, white bag. I waited patiently and eventually she crept into my frame.

_DS81752Two hours later I was walking back to the station with a card full of unexpected images. It was mid-week in mid September. The kids were back in school, the tourists had gone. The cafes and pubs were quiet, the promenade was deserted except for an occasional walker. The beach was empty. I looked for am image to sum up that ‘season’s over’ feeling. I found it in the deck chair attendant, waiting patiently, without a single customer.

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About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'. I'm not averse to manipulating images to produce derivatives that may sometimes be far removed from the original.
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15 Responses to Single Figures at the Seaside

  1. athyfoto says:

    Really nice post Andy. For me, these two images both instill a feeling of melancholy. In the first image that is due to the way the lone woman’s head is bowed down and the second image because of the fact that he needs some custom but that seems hopeless. Well, that’s my reaction to the shots.

    • LensScaper says:

      It’s a very apt comment, Frank. Thank you. I will have more images to show of Margate which I found to be a very sad place in some respects – and melancholic sums it up very well.

  2. oneowner says:

    There is a somewhat lonely feeling about a beautiful beach with only a few to appreciate it. Great shots.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks Ken. It’s been interesting seeing the range of opinions on this post. Taken on their own, without any other input, these images may well project serenity and quietness. Seen in the context of other images of this place they can become part of an altogther different narrative. I will attempt to explore this in another post in a few days time.

  3. It is nice when the crowds are gone isn’t it. Lovely, serene images Andy.

  4. shoreacres says:

    As someone who lives in an area that’s a tourist magnet from about April through October, these images don’t seem at all melancholic. They seem restful, peaceful. When the off-season arrives, locals can search for shells, watch the sunrise or sunset, wade ankle deep or sit on the jetties as we please, without the clamor of crowds and the ear-splitting music (or what passes for music).

    What you’ve shown here is what I’m looking forward to. I imagine that woman and that deck chair attendant perfectly happy.

    One observation: isn’t it interesting how the addition of one figure makes a beach seem far more empty than if there were none?

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks you Linda. Your last paragraph is very true. Without a figure, the image is merely a study in minimalism. Add the single figure and it becomes a story. And there is a story that I am going to try and tell in a few days time about this place. Look out for that post.

  5. I so love the shorelines and beaches. Just something peaceful and relaxing about them, particularly when they are not crowded with people. Very nice, thought inducing images, Andy!

  6. Chillbrook says:

    When I lived in the south east Andy a day trip to Margate in the summer holidays was always on the cards. Our longer summer holidays would be down here in the south west. I think the emotions you mentioned, that keen eagerness for the first sight of the sea is why I’ve ended up living a few miles from where we spent those childhood holidays. It’s a little quieter here but we’ve a ways to go yet to find an empty beach although a few weeks back, the pictures I’ve posted recently would have been very different. I love the lone figure and the deck chair attendent waiting for a customer. Certainly an off-season feel to the images. Very nice indeed.

    • LensScaper says:

      I went to boarding school in Ramsgate – St Lawrence College – and so Margate was quite close. In the early sixties this was a popular destination when foreign holidays were unusual. My memories of it – school concerts in the Winter Gardens – were firstly of bright lights and smart venues. Secondly, this was a place that was Thanet’s answer to Blackpool. Dreamland was where it was all happening. It was off limits to Boarders, but that didn’t stop some of the more adventurous pupils of the school from visiting it. It’s sad to see how it has changed. Thanks for your comment, Adrian.

  7. I loved both of these shots, Andy. I’ve spent the majority of my life living on the Texas Plains, under big skies and long horizons; being at a beach gives me the same comfortable feeling that I have on the Plains. Your descriptions of what you like at the beach – smells, sounds, horizons – made me long to be at a beach myself.

    And, to me, a deserted beach is the best kind of beach.

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