Curator of Photography

The Coast Exposed 2005

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Richard Morrison
Times 2

The Coast Exposed, drawn from the work of superb photographers working for the National Trust and Magnum Photos, it evokes Britain’s manifold seascapes with such exuberant veracity that you can practically taste the salt in the breeze. But as the exhibition’s title suggests, this is also a show with an agenda. Britain’s coastline is “exposed” in more than the shipping-forecast sense. Those mighty cliffs and ancient harbours may seem indomitable. But the reality is that many of our finest seascapes are all too fragile, all too easily scarred or destroyed.

Tourism, for instance, is both the lifeblood of coastal communities and one of the coastline’s most potent threats. Like the worm eating into the rose in William Blake’s poem, it despoils the very object of its desire. That point is made by Nick Meers with his jolting pictures of litter at Studland Point in Dorset — where, battling to keep a magnificent headland in pristine condition, the local council collects 60 tonnes of shamelessly discarded debris each year. But mindless development (as in the bungalow sprawl suffocating the South Downs, or the caravans besmirching the West Country) can be just as destructive of coastal beauty. So can industrial pollution. That is the subtext in Joe Cornish’s haunting pictures of Horden beach in Durham — still blackened by layers of coal spoilings that will take centuries to wash away.

The paradox, of course, is that without mankind’s intervention — and what seems to be our infinite capacity for making good in the face of catastrophe — Nature would wreak even greater destruction on our coasts than we manage to do by ourselves. Scattered through this show are images of crumbling cliffs, desperately unstable dunes and precariously exposed birds’ nests, all bearing witness to this. But nothing demonstrates it better than the photos taken by Stuart Franklin after that traumatic day in Boscastle last August — when, out of the blue, 440 million gallons of rainwater roared down the steep, narrow valley and swept away the shops, homes, boats and livelihoods of an entire Cornish village.

OK, perhaps that terrifying flash-flood didn’t rank with the Indian Ocean tsunami on what journalists flippantly call the “scale of human misery”. In Boscastle, miraculously, nobody was killed. Nevertheless, it was a wake-up call. Much of our coastline may be “rugged”, but it is far from indestructible. As with democracy, the price of its survival is eternal vigilance. We owe it to our children’s children to pass on this glorious bequest in at least as good a condition as it was passed on to us.

Serena Davis
Arts Telegraph

They have captured everything from environmental damage, to idyllic shores steeped in history. Its also about viewpoint. The pictures by the National Trust photographers are a soft lament tour ever - changing natural world, with barely a person in them.  Colour and use of long exposures give their work a heightened aestheticism. The Magnum photographers, by contrast, use black and white and concentrate on the foibles of humanity.         

Sophie Morrison
24 Hour Museum

The Coast exposed a collaboration between the NT and the world famous Magnum Agency is part of the celebrations for SeaBritain 2005.

Bringing to life the splendours of the British Coastline, vivid colour landscapes from the National Trust and eye-catching black and white pieces from Magnum are displayed in the stunning 17th Century Queen’s House. Set out in seven rooms, each wit hits own distinct flavour, these photographs encapsulate the vitality of our coast, in all its forms.   


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