Home Ground by Tony Gaskins

Home Ground by Tony Gaskins

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of long Sunday morning walks with my dad. We used to walk from home to the Grimsby docks where he would tell me about the big cargo ships and the fishing trawlers lined up at the quayside. We'd walk from the docks along the banks of the River Humber to Cleethorpes. The family camera was Kodak Instamatic and it often accompanied me on those walks.

One of the highlights of my week was getting the Kodachrome 25 or 64 slides back from the chemist. I remember my parents buying me a slide projector and screen for Christmas to view the slides in all their living glory; remember I was using a Kodak Instamatic and slow slide film. More by luck than ability, some were sharp!

I think this was the spark for my love of photography that was abandoned during my adolescence but was re-kindled in my early thirties. After my dad died in 1991, I found myself thinking about those walks and how much my time with him was now precious to me. It seemed right and fitting to use my rediscovered love for photography to record the Humber and Lincolnshire coast. Not only as a memorial to my dad but as something to stretch and challenge me as a photographer.

It's easy to think that exotic and iconic locations with spectacular views are valuable while ignoring what's on your doorstep. Trying to show that local images are equally relevant to landscape photography was the other vital part of my decision making. It's also apparent from reviewing the images from my project how much my approach and style has evolved over the years. What started as a two-year project and has become a lifetime's work.

Originating at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Trent, the Humber is over 40 miles long and 7 miles wide at its mouth. Mainly associated with fishing and industry linked to the ports of Grimsby, Hull, Goole and Immingham and is home to the magnificent Humber Bridge which was once the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world. The 40-mile river course leads to the North Sea and to the vast expanse of the Lincolnshire coast. This is Britain's mysterious border: a coast of beauty, big skies and ever-changing colours and light patterns. it's no wonder this project has evolved into a lifetime's work.

It's almost impossible to step away from my emotions when working on this project. Visits to Cleethorpes bring back happy boyhood memories: precious time with my hard-working dad, fun, jokes and best of all him explaining things to me, learning about the river, sea and the ships were soaked up like a sponge. The Lincolnshire coast was where I ran to my mum was dying so I could escape for a short while and concentrate on other things.

The image titled In Memoriam best sums this up. It was 2004 and I hadn't visited my mum in a couple of months. work pressures and being a new dad kept me busy. When I did visit her I was shocked to see how much weight she'd lost and how frail she looked. I learned of her imminent hospital tests and instinctively knew that the results would not be positive.

On the morning of those tests I couldn't sleep, I got up at 3 am and headed for the coast, I didn't think where I was going but found myself at Sutton-on-Sea. Out of habit I'd taken my camera bag and decided to take some photos. The bag I picked up contained my Wista 5x4 view camera, luckily I had some pre-loaded dark slides containing Fuji Velvia.  I found the remains of the groyne, all that stood was a small piece of wood that once formed part of the sea defences. I immediately saw the analogy: this piece of wood had stood resolute for many years, but would soon be overcome by both time and tide, as would my mum.

Of the 20,000 or so images that sit on my computer's hard drive, none mean more to me than this image because I made the connection between the image and my emotions. I was captivated by the extraordinary sunrise, the vibrant reds in the sky and how the wet sand reflected this. During my numerous visits to Sutton-on-Sea, I had never before or after that morning seen this piece of wood or sunrise as vivid and dramatic. My mum died the following year.

My technical photographic skills have developed alongside this project, as have my artistic abilities: my eye for composition and my decision making (what to include and exclude, chosen viewpoints and post-production work) are now very different to the 1990s and early 2000s. This project also includes personal and emotional milestones I was engaged with it when I became a father and I was able to work on post-production of older images during my wife's recent illnesses when I couldn't spend time away from home and its seen change of career and helped me deal with problems and has been something I can think about and plan when I'm faced with multiple personal and professional challenges.

I feel I've been blessed because of this project, witnessing as I have unique light and atmospheric phenomena that are unlikely to be repeated that I wouldn't have seen if I'd not been engaged in this work. It has allowed me to become immersed in the local landscape and allowed me to hone my skills as a photographer and learn about my craft.

I recall a January afternoon walk along the Humber near New Holland Pier. I decide to visit because of another boyhood memory of taking the Tattershall Castle ferry from New Holland to Hull long before the Humber Bridge was built. The setting sun on that winter afternoon created mauve and pink light that coloured the entire river. I have never seen light like it. (A few years ago I was delighted to find the Tattershall Castle ferry moored on the Thames opposite the London Eye during a business trip to the capital. I had to stop for a nostalgic pint on board).

It wasn't until I started my first selection of images for this article how many images I have of two landing jetties in Cleethorpes. I hadn't realised how often I've photographed them but I recently remembered that's where I'd stop with my dad to skim stones in the water. Perhaps on a subconscious level, I'm remembering my dad and it's my way of reconnecting with the past.

This article started as an explanation of a  photographic project but evolved into an emotional journey, more than a trip down memory lane, it's been cathartic and I hope the images I've made and continue to make would mean something to my parents.

An interest in photography became a passion when I discovered landscape photography as a genre. Being able to connect with the physical world be it urban, rural, coastal, woodland or wilderness and have time to appreciate the varieties of light, weather and seasons and how they influence our environment keeps me engaged as a photographer.

My preference is to portray the landscape to capture the mood and emotions it stirs in us. Pretty much the first thing we do in the morning is to look out of the window to see what the light is like and how the weather might shape our day. In my mind, I have just taken that norm to its conclusion.

I view landscape photography as a privilege. It has allowed me to witness sunrises sunsets, storms and many different unique events and capture them.  I love to look at landscape photographs and I hope someone viewing my images enjoys looking at them.

Spurn Lighthouse at Sunset Sept 2012-00103
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