A Cyclist on the English Landscape

A yr in the past, as a journey photographer grounded by the pandemic, I began bringing a digicam and tripod with me on my morning bicycle rides, taking pictures them as if they have been journal assignments.

It began out as simply one thing to do — a problem to attempt to see the acquainted via contemporary eyes. Soon it blossomed right into a celebration of touring at dwelling.

I reside in a pale seaside city referred to as St. Leonards-on-Sea, in Sussex, on the south coast of England. If you’ve not heard of it, you’re in good firm. It’s not on anyone’s record of celebrated English magnificence spots. Indeed, most of my driving is throughout flat coastal marsh or down-at-the-heel seafront promenades.

ImagePlans by lamplight: consulting the map in one of the old-fashioned Edwardian shelters along the seafront promenade in Bexhill-on-Sea.

There’s historical past right here, after all. This is England in any case. The lonely marshes I pedal throughout most days are the place William the Conqueror landed his males in 1066. Otherwise, aside from being a hang-out for smugglers, this stretch of coast dozed away the centuries till the Victorians introduced the railways down from London.

Then, for a number of gaudy many years, St. Leonards and the different close by seaside cities grew to become common bucket-and-spade vacation spots, England’s personal Costa del Sol — that’s, till funds airfares and the actual Costa del Sol, the one in Spain, lured the crowds away and plunged the space into an extended and not-so-genteel decline.

As for me, I’m a transplant. I moved right here from Australia. After the preliminary novelty wore off, that of being in England, it assumed a kind of shrugging familiarity — the traditional outlets, takeaways, a downbeat seafront, tough round the edges however with not-too-inconvenient entry to Gatwick and Heathrow and flights to extra attention-grabbing locations.

But a yr of exploring St. Leonards and its surrounds, digicam in hand, chasing the gentle, has modified all that. It’s introduced dwelling the reality that you just don’t have to board a aircraft and jet off to the far facet of the world to expertise a way of journey or the romance of distinction. It lies ready on the doorstep — in case you look.

You don’t have to go far. Indeed, I haven’t been capable of. With the varied lockdowns which have been imposed on us over the previous yr, it’s been both discouraged or downright unlawful to stray far out of your residence. All these photos have been captured inside a 10-mile radius of the place I reside, and most of them a lot nearer than that.

I plan my outings and set out every morning properly earlier than daybreak with a purpose to be the place I need to be in time to catch the first gentle. In summer season that may imply leaving the home as early as 3 a.m. In winter, it’s chilly starlight, the crunch of frost below my wheels, often snowflakes swirling in the glow of my headlamp.

I carry every little thing I want on my bicycle and work completely alone. I’m each the photographer and the bicycle owner in the pictures. That half’s taken a little bit of getting used to. I’ve by no means been snug in entrance of the digicam. As a journalist, I’ve at all times stated I had an awesome face for radio and the good voice for print. But wants should when the satan drives. What with social-distancing necessities and 0 funds, I’m all I’ve bought.

These photos, although, aren’t meant to be about me. They’re meant to characterize a bicycle owner on the panorama, anyone — you, maybe.

Creating these photos has required not solely a brand new means of visualizing, however an entire new photographic ability set. The first query most individuals ask is how I set off the shutter once I’m 100 yards away on my bicycle. Simple. I take advantage of what’s referred to as an intervalometer, a programmable timer that permits me to preset no matter delay I want after which have the digicam fireplace off a selected variety of frames. That’s the straightforward bit. Anyone can take a self-portrait.

Placing your self artistically in the scene is a far trickier proposition. It requires juggling a maddening variety of particulars, most of which you by no means consider till you begin doing it and look critically at the outcomes. Everything issues, from the drape of sunshine and shadow, to the set of your headlamps, to your physique language on the bicycle. You should be actor, director, location scout, gaffer, key grip, even wardrobe assistant: I at all times carry a spare jersey or two in numerous colours to ensure I can work with any backdrop.

What’s extra, it’s important to play all these roles in actual time, in quickly shifting gentle, in an uncontrolled setting the place automobiles, pedestrians, dog-walkers, horses, cyclists and joggers can — and do! — pop up out of nowhere. It will be vastly irritating, and but at the identical time intensely satisfying when all of it comes collectively.

It’s addictive, too. Over the previous yr I’ve turn out to be a eager scholar of native geography — not simply the format of the cities and the structure and the contours of the panorama, however when and the place the gentle falls as the seasons progress. I do know the tide tables like an outdated salt and comply with the phases of the moon. I’ve developed a peasant’s eye for climate. I can inform at a look, once I step outdoors my door, these mornings when an evocative mist might be rising miles away on the marsh. I plan my outings with the identical jaunty expectancy I used to really feel on my technique to the airport. And once I push off down the road, the world turns into massive once more, the means it was once I was a baby: wealthy intimately, ripe for discovery.

By the time I return to the home, a number of hours later, having witnessed the dawn and put nonetheless many miles of Sussex countryside beneath my wheels, I really feel as if I’ve been locations, seen issues, traveled in the grand outdated sense of the phrase.

And, ever the journey photographer, I convey again photos of the place I’ve been.

Roff Smith is a author and photographer based mostly in England. You can comply with his each day rides on Instagram: @roffsmith.


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