Estuaries, marshlands, creeks and salt flats - the edge of the known world.These are the places that have fascinated me since childhood.The unseen and unvisited places between the water and the land. As a photographer, I would explore these lonely, unloved places, attempting to capture the silent emptiness. Names such as Allhallows, Dead Man's Island, Whalebone Marshes and Egypt Bay appealed to my imagination. Occasionally I would stumble across a beached hull, stripped of its planks with only its oak ribs remaining. I had found my subject.These decaying structures epitomised the wild, otherworldliness that attracted me to these areas. Object, sky and land had become one. I began to search them out.
I soon found that these abandoned wrecks littered our estuaries and mudflats.They were mostly wooden but a few were built of iron and steel.They had been abandoned for many reasons: some had been lived in and had deteriorated beyond repair; others were actual wrecks, beached in a storm. But most seem to have just been parked and left.The majority of the wrecks are work boats:Thames barges, Second World War minesweepers or MTBs, lightships, ferries, fishing boats and small rowing skiffs.There are also abandoned pleasure craft: streamlined wooden yachts, plywood motor cruisers and rowing boats.These vessels are abandoned alone on mud banks or in tidal creeks, far out and beyond reach, or in small groups in a kind of ship graveyard, quietly sinking back into the silt. Some have names and are well known in the area; they have a documented history but are too far decayed to be of anything but passing interest.
The beauty of these craft has much to do with their location: the pitted timbers seem to grow out of the mud, defiant and graceful in their decline; the colours merge with the land and sky creating a savage, mysterious beauty.They lie broken and abandoned, washed by salty tides and lashed by wild storms.They become the landscape, merging with the sky, sea and land.
Ships and shipwrecks have an undeniable romance.They are the stuff of adventure, adversity and danger.They are memorials to a slower, more straightforward and honest world.Their basic technology and traditional construction appeal to our sense of order.These are simple vessels, built to do a simple job: to carry man and cargo upon the water.
These photographs were taken over many years and were taken on an Art Panorama 170 camera, made in Japan.The camera uses 120 film and produces a 6 x 17cm negative.
John Whitfield 2018