Recently a lot of my conversations have ended like this
“Oh right . . .”
Stand within three feet of me over the last few months and, whether you wanted to hear it or not, I’ll have started talking to you about photographing seaweed.
After Oscar Wilde the most famous resident of Worthing is the seaweed. Shortly after moving here the beach experienced one of its infamous ‘attacks’. The whole shoreline became covered in seaweed, piling up in huge drifts on the beach. Local farmers were once allowed to collect it and use it to fertilise their fields. During the 1930s this stopped when the local council decided to start charging them to do this. Combined with the raw sewage that was pumped straight out to sea, the rotting weed created the famous Worthing stink (I’m pretty sure estate agents in Hove still use this to deter their clients from crossing the border). In another brilliant Trumpesque move the council then decided to bulldoze the weed back into the sea. Unfortunately this also pushed all of the golden sands Worthing had been famous for permanently out into the sea, ruining the tourist industry.
Luckily these attacks have become rare now and the many different varieties of seaweed have become more attraction than nuisance. This fascinating hidden landscape is revealed at low tide. As you walk down the shingle banks of the beach and step onto the sand you begin a journey through an amazing natural habitat.
At the foreshore lie piles of storm wash. Torn spiral wrack is tangled with straggly sea oak, it’s pods battered away by the waves. Small pieces of carrageen moss cling to the tough fronds of toothed wrack. Moving down among the rocks you’ll see strange domed shapes appearing out of the water. With their green and purple hairy coverings, the gut weed growing on these rocks make them look like a line of turtles marching towards the sea. Approaching the waters edge the last line of rocks are topped by branches folded over to one side. As the tide comes back in these branches slowly begin to rise. The toothed and spiral wrack at their ends fan out and wave back and forth below the water. These weeds are part of a huge range of over 650 different species of seaweed living along the coast of the British Isles. They provide a habitat and food for thousands of marine creatures.
Walking through and standing among these fascinating plants while photographing seascapes I began to develop the idea of documenting them. I found photographing them in their natural environment distracted the eye from simply appreciating the colour, form and detail. I decided instead to take inspiration from Victorian botanical and scientific illustrations and present the images in a more formal way.
Keen not to disturb the natural habitat of the shoreline by taking cuttings, I collect fresh samples washed up after storms. I take these into a studio and light them in seawater to highlight their unique colour and tone. I research each species I find and label them with their Latin and English names.
I hope you enjoy the ongoing series and are as fascinated as I am by the variety and beauty of the seaweed.