Sea Swimming In Plymouth Devon
Day 2.1 The Photographers Eye Road Trip
It was a beautiful morning in Devon as I struggled to quietly close the front door behind me as my girlfriend slept. It was day two of my photography road trip and I was up early, eager to catch the morning light and find a decent cup of coffee. My destination Plymouth Hoe.
We had arrived late the night before and after eating an amazing curry, thanks Mrs C, we finally got to bed just before midnight. My lack of sleep, a fully loaded camera bag and my inability to operate affectively or quietly without coffee was making it difficult to leave the house. I successfully negotiated the loudest creaking iron gate in Devon and finally made into the sound proof interior of my car, happy days!
Plymouth Hoe, often referred to by the locals as just the Hoe, is the name for the city's waterfront. In 1588 Sir Francis Drake played bowls there whilst waiting for the tide to turn before setting sail and attacking the Spanish Armada. These days it's a popular spot for visitors to stroll, office workers to eat their lunch and uni students to while away the day. Plymouth has a strong naval history and visitors will often visit Smeaton's Tower, The Royal Devonport Dockyard, The Barbican and the Mayflower Steps during their stay. I'll be sharing some of these places with you in future blog posts but on this particular morning I was interested in The Hoe and Plymouth's connection with the sea.
Whilst planning my road trip I recalled a conversation with my good friend Lloyd, a photographer I used to work with at Plymouth University. He told me how for many years the famous Plymouth Hoe Diving Boards stood proud over looking Plymouth Sound. Built back in the 1930's, he told me the story about a unknown local man who would regularly dive from the highest board into the sea, often to the amazement of visiting tourists. The man had become rather famous in the area and continued to dive well into his old age. I was interested in finding out more but unfortunately the diving boards had been dismantled in 2010 and not even Google could help me discover who the mystery diver was! However remembering this story did get me thinking back to something I had noticed whilst working in the city a few years before. I noticed that many of the local people seemed to have a strong connection with the sea. Meet a Plymothian for the first time and it won't be long before the conversation turns to visiting the beach, sailing or some other sea related activity. I think it's in there DNA and I guess it's this that makes the city and it's people who and what they are today. I decided before setting off on my photography adventure that I would try and capture this strong connection with the sea and document it during my trip. The Hoe seemed as good a place as any to start.
Don't forget your Swimmers.
As you walk across the large green lawns on the Hoe, past Smeatons Tower and then down across a road, you are treated to a beautiful view across Plymouth Sound. You can watch the large naval ships, ferries and small pleasure craft bob around on the water whilst wandering to yourself how Sir Francis Drake must have felt some 400 year before. As I put my sunglasses back on after sharing the view on Periscope something in the water caught my eye. I concentrated my stare and after a while realised it was the head of a person swimming in the sea! 'Wow they must be cold' I thought as I watched the person splash through the water. It was late March and although the sun was shinning it had taken me 5 minutes to defrost my car windscreen only a short time before. As I watched the lone swimmer head closer towards the beach I readied my camera (Nikon D800 with the nifty 50) and waited. The sunlight was glistening off the crystal clear water and from my vantage point, high up on the waterfront, I could already see the photograph I was about to create. All I had to do was.......
Hang on one darn minute!
Let's just stop for a moment 'How can you possibly see a photograph! Or come to think of it, Predict! a moment before it even happens? I mean there are so many factors to come into play! The swimmer might divert off into another direction or the sun might go behind a cloud. So many things are out of your control Scott! Are you mad?'
Well maybe I am ;-) and yes you are right. I can't predict the future but sometimes when I'm taking a photo I just seem to be able to predict what is going to happen.
IT'S ALL ABOUT SEEING
I guess really it's just a hunch, it's difficult to explain as I have no idea where it comes from, and trust me sometimes it doesn't, but other times without even trying it arrives! I feel so tuned into a moment or situation I just seem to know how something is going to happen and what my photograph will be. Some people say you need to be lucky and that you just need to be in the right place at the right time to take a good photo. And yes I'm sure luck has something to do with it. I certainly had no idea this person would be swimming in the sea that morning. I had no idea which way they would swim and I deffinatly can't control the weather but it is more than luck. It's about seeing and being aware of a situation. It's also about understanding people and having the ability to observe them and not in a creepy way. Another photographer might not have even noticed the person swimming or predicted from the towel on the beach that they would probably be heading back sometime soon, especially because it was so cold! You must have no distractions, you need to fully understand your equipment so you are free to think. Taking a photograph should be as natural as breathing. Oh yes and patience, you need lots of patience!
Back to Plymouth and as I waited, taking the time to double check the camera settings, the swimmer reached the foreshore. I lifted the camera to my eye and fired off two frames just as the person left the water and walked up the beach, My photo was created, perfect..........well maybe?
The Journey To Perfection
Photographers and artists are never really happy for very long. Even after taking my 'perfect photo' for the morning I was already thinking about the next. I thought to myself, maybe if I could take it on a wide (short for a wide angle lens) down on the beach slightly at a angle to the sun, just as the swimmer enters or leaves the water? Wow that would make an amazing photo ;-) Inspired, I set off to find the swimmer. I headed down a path, along a stone platform, through a large stone shelter and onto a set of stone steps near to the Tinside Lido. I could still see the swimmer at the top of the steps drying off and chatting to another person. For this shot to work I would need to ask permission. It was tempting to jump right in and introduce myself there and then but experience has taught me it's good sometimes to hold back and watch for a while. There's an art to approaching complete strangers and skill needed when asking to take a photo or interview a person you don't know. The last thing you want is to come across like a totally nut case! As I planned my approach I concentrated on photographing the Art Deco lido for a while. By the time I was done the swimmer had been joined by several others. Satisfied they could see I was a normally chap just taking photos I walked over and said Hi. We chatted for a while and it turned out they were members of a local sea swimming Facebook group. As we talked about swimming and how cold the sea was I recalled an assignment I covered documenting Fiona The Charity Swimmer. In the audio that accompanies the story, Fiona talks about why she loves swimming in the sea and why she does it. Listen to hear wonderful story here.
I asked if I could take some photographs. 'Yes of course, help yourself. We will be going for a swim in a minute.' As I hurried to get down to the waters edge I thought to myself 'Maybe, just maybe I'll get that photo I had imagined earlier'....
Postcards From Plymouth
'Perfect start to the day' I thought to myself as I walked back up the steps onto the Hoe. All I needed now was coffee, luckily I had just enough time before picking up Indra, my girlfriend, and heading to Burgh Island to take more photos. I'll be share these photographs and more stories from my road trip soon, just hit the subscribe button below to join my mailing list and receive updates.
Prints are available to buy via my online Photography Gallery. Every sale helps me to continue my journey and document new places.
Have you ever traveled to a place where the people have been as unique as the place they live in? Is it possible for a city and it's people to be influenced by it's past or location? Leave a comment below and share some of your own travel adventures and thoughts, I would love to hear them.
Till next time, Scott.