Assignment Five – Research and Planning

I started with three ideas for the final assignment of this course. The first was toying with drinks, but pictured in a surrealistic way, next was to symbolise the telling of a story, the idea was to use roses of different colours to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet.

The idea that stuck however was to do a series on Hastings pier. This would have the greatest personal connection and the tutor agreed it would be the most appropriate.


5th August 1872 was a notable date: it was the first bank holiday in the UK, established as a result of the Bank Holidays Act 1871. It was also the day a 910 foot pleasure pier opened at the south coast resort of Hastings, in East Sussex.

Seaside piers are a typically Victorian, English curiosity which delighted holidaymakers during trips to the seaside. Around the turn of the century almost a hundred piers existed, now only about half that number remain, victims of poor investment and increasing sophistication of the travelling public.

Hastings pier boomed from the time it opened, through the heydays of the 1930’s and became a mecca for pop bands in the 60s and 70s. The decline started in the 1980s when lack of investment failed to maintain the structure in a serviceable and safe condition, storms in 1983, 1987 and 1993 took their toll and the pier closed in 1999. It was then bought by a private investor who refurbished the visible superstructure and reopened it in 2001, on May Day bank holiday. But much needed structural repairs were never carried out and it closed again in 2006, this time by the council on health and safety grounds. A local charity was formed to raise the funds to repair the pier but to little effect.

On Tuesday morning, the 5th October 2010, the pier was subject to an arson attack. Two youths were seen jumping from the pier. They were arrested and later released due to lack of evidence. The fire was quickly spotted and emergency services were soon on the scene but due to the unsafe structure, they were limited in their ability to fight what was at the time a small fire. As a result 95% of the pier’s superstructure and decking were lost.

The devastation galvanised attempts to save the grade II listed structure. The council has successfully pursued a compulsory purchase order, lottery funds have been granted and in August this year, work has started to restore it. Like a phoenix, a brand new 21st century pier is rising from the Victorian ashes and the efforts of the charity behind it are being heralded as an example of what can be done by local community power to save this part of the country’s heritage.

I grew up in Hastings and spent much of my time in, on or under the pier. I took speedboat rides from the pierhead and saw my favourite bands performing in the ballroom. I’ve swam under it at high tide and walked around it at low tide. It formed a central part of my formative years and I cannot describe the loss I felt when I heard the news of the 2010 fire.

This series of pictures is intended to describe some of the history of the pier, some of my personal nostalgia and loss and give a sense of hope for the future.


Simon Roberts – The idea for this project came from looking at Simon Roberts’ work “Pierdom”. By pulling back as he does from many of his subjects he shows the subject in its context and takes a lot of emphasis from it. This can result in a detached style and can lack intimacy. In many of Pierdom’s photos the pier is in the context of lots of sea, empty beaches or emerging from rooftops.

Saltburn is pulled back so far, the pier is almost lost:


St Annes has a massive swathe of empty beach as a foreground:


Clevedon is a pierhead surrounded by sea and sky which blur into each other with no clear horizon:


Although some context will be required, this impersonal feel is not really what I am looking for with what I want to say.

Helene Binet – A lot of her work is dominated by geometric shapes and patterns. In contrast to Roberts, she will often get in close and create a geometric shape out of architectural details. A lot of her work also uses shadows and reflections to paint a picture with tones.


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Eric De Mare – Evidence of activity brings his photos much closer, often there are people as an integral part of his composition but where there are none, there is evidence of human activity eg sacks, machinery. His influence on architecture is still felt today.

The photos show very much the use of architecture, especially the series on the functional tradition where he found aestheticism in plainness.

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John Davies – The series British Isles 1979 to 2009 contains panoramic vistas of cityscapes and industrial landscapes characterised by a high viewpoint. The Metropoli project has a similar high viewpoint. It’s not for him to get down and dirty and crawl through the grime of the city streets, he’d rather stand aloof and take in a vista like a visitor from another planet. But whereas Simon Roberts’ detachment is enhanced by the muted tones and dreaminess, Davies’ are sharp as a knife.

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Whilst these examples have informed this work in a general sense, there are a couple of specific influences to mention.

I was struck by similarities between Binet and de Mare, for example:

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This led me to working under the pier to explore similar possibilities.

John Davies’ use of an elevated viewpoint is echoed to an extent by Binet. I had also found some archive pictures of the pier from a higher perspective. Hastings is a town of many hills which enabled me to get a similar perspective, particularly over roofs and chimneys.

Some of my responses to these influences that did not make the final selection are:



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As well the research described above, I also did an internet search of pictures of the pier before the fire. This gave me a library of images to draw influence from and to direct my own picture taking.

I wanted to show a sense of loss; that the pier was a place for fun and amusement, attracting a lot of people of which now it is just a ghost. But with the proposal and funding in place for the refurbishment there is a nod to a hopeful future.

I decided to think in terms of three:

1 – The Past

Old pictures of the pier “juxtaposed” with as it is today, not exact copies, but showing the “feel”. Part of my library consisted of pictures of newspaper adverts for bands appearing on the pier and I thought it would be a telling picture to include these in some way with the fire ravaged ballroom.

2 – The Present

I originally thought of this as being a catalogue of the current state but decided to make it more personal by generally including people. This would be them going about their daily business with the pier as a backdrop. When something gets familiar, you ignore it; I wanted to show that the dilapidated pier has reached this status.

3 – The future

A couple of pictures to show the possibly bright future.

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