Photo Essay

England's Desert

Dungeness Lighthouse

Down on the most southerly tip of Kent in England is a barren place called Dungeness. In fact it's so barren it is classified as Britain's only desert due to its dryness and spectacular lack of surface vegetation. Dungeness is also home to a some lighthouses, a nuclear power station, and a whole cast of eclectic residents and was once the home of film maker Derek Jarman before he died in 1994.

The present operational lighthouse, as shown in my main picture, was commissioned in 1961 and is constructed of precast concrete rings 1.5 metres high, 15 cm thick and 3.6 metres in diameter, fitted one above the other, and has black and white bands which are impregnated into the concrete. The lighthouse it replaced is now a visitor attraction where people can climb to the top and look at the magnificent views. The headland landscape is dominated by the Dungeness A and Dungeness B Nuclear Power Stations which have been in the area since 1965 and 1983 respectively. Of the two only Dungeness B remains operational until at least 2018.

Commercial fishing is an important part of the local economy and goes back generations supporting many families over the years. Nowadays there are probably half the number of boats than 50 years ago although it is fair to say the size of the vessels, and subsequently the size of catch, has contributed to the need for less boats. Some of the boats that are no longer used sit abandoned on the shingle beach slowly rotting and provide some dramatic photographic opportunities to visitors and photographers alike. In fact the unique aspect of Dungeness means Dungeness is favoured by many fashion shoots and film crews as well as being a destination for amateur photographers like myself. And there is the problem I was faced on my first visit to Dungeness, just how would I capture it's unique and derelict beauty in my own style in just 24 hours?

What I decided to do was to only shoot my images only in the Golden and Blue hours meaning a late night and very early start the next morning. I also made a conscious decision to capture the working part of the beach and not just the abandoned boats. For this I needed to ask permission of the boats crews as access to their work area is frowned upon without permission. There is a good safety reason for this and the local Trust stipulate that "Dungeness is an area where people live and work. Please respect their privacy. Do not disrupt routines of residents and local fishermen. Keep noise to a low level." I'm glad I took this decision as I feel my photographs tell a more contemporary story of Dungeness which highlights the reality of a fading industry and way of life for the area.

My photographs show the classic landscape views of Dungeness but I also think they show the reality of life on the commercial beach. It's a dumping ground for not only fishing related waste but also that of a modern society unwanted electronic goods. The rusting machinery and a banded boats reflect a time long passed by allowing the desert land to slowly reclaim it's hold over the area. I only wish I had more time to record more of this fascinating place and I will certainly be back to spend more time here and cover more of the Dungeness estate and nearby bird sanctuary.

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1 response

  • Tom Wilson

    Tom Wilson said (5 Sep 2013):

    Thanks Richard, until 1966 I lived in Tunbridge Wells and often visited this area with all it's attractions. What about the miniature railway for pics? I'm coming home (from Canada) for a holiday next year so will have to see if I have time to visit. Thanks for the excellent pics. Tom

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