A long overdue new entry on this blog and a new project in the making, I hope. Inspired by an in-person and subsequent email-exchanges conversation with one of the photographers featured in the Human Nature photography exhibition currently on the Prom as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival has inspired me to be a bit more systematic about my pictures of people 'On The Edge'. So far, I have just been photographing random strangers I have seen at the water's edge but I think I should try a bit harder to set up my subjects.
I would like continue with the same basic idea, people looking out to sea from the beach, sitting or standing, along or in couples, maybe three or four people at a pinch. But I'd like to put a bit more thought into it. What does the boundary between sand and sea mean to the person in the picture? What are they thinking as they look out? Is the water a barrier or an invitation? And how would they like to appear, photographed from behind? Appropriately dressed for water-based leisure or incongruously dressed to the nines? Expressing personality or anonymous silhouette?
So is anyone interested? I like to walk along the beach most days - often looking for a 'blip' (a whole other story) - and so we could fit in around that. Realistically I recognise I am most likely to be able to persuade current friends to take part, at least to start with. Please get in touch.
This year's regular Art Walk unfortunately had to be cancelled so there were no Art Houses to visit. However a new programme was devised under the banner "All At Sea" and it includes an outdoor photography exhibition on the Prom - Two Places By The Sea. The exhibition is a link between Portobello and the town of Akureyri in Northern Iceland. I have to declare an interest as I, along with a friend in Akureyri, came up with the original idea and organised the Portobello half of the project.
The connection was first made through the photo-sharing site Blipfoto when I saw Gunnlaug's photographs of her home town, somewhere I remembered visiting in the early 1980s. We managed to meet in person a few years ago when she and her family visited Edinburgh on holiday. She is a member of a photography group which has been meeting for ten years and regularly puts on exhibitions in the town. For their tenth anniversary we came up with the idea for a joint exhibition, linking our two places by the sea. With fifteen of the group's members keen to take part I put together an adhoc group of photographers in Portobello - a mixture of other professional photographers like myself and friends who were just interested in photography. The groups were paired up, one from each place, and given themes to work with. Some pairs were able to develop close collaborations while others were a little restricted by the lack of common language. Language became an important part of the project, especially when one of the early images was submitted with a bit of background text as well as a title. I decided it would be great if everyone could write a short bit of extra information about the picture and what it meant to them. And with the help of our Icelandic friends we were able to get all the English translated into Icelandic and the Icelandic translated into English (thanks again, that was a lot of work!) The banner we had planned in Portobello didn't give us a lot of room so I decided to keep the pictures as big as possible for the outdoor exhibition and save the background text for the website. The Icelandic staging of the exhibition was a little different - they had some financial support from the Town's Art Festival and used the same format they had used for previous outdoor exhibitions - large prints mounted on both sides of display boards above a concrete block base. With a bit more room they were able to include the background text beside the images.
The Icelandic exhibition was installed in Akureyri at the end of August and the Portobello one a week later. In Portobello we managed to get permission to put the banner up on the Portobello Sailing and Kayaking Club fence - a prime spot on the Prom for maximum visibility. We COVID-19 restrictions at the time limiting outdoor gatherings to five households we couldn't have a conventional launch event and instead organised a staggered event in twenty-minute time slots, with just three or four of the photographers at each one. Since being installed the exhibition has attracted a lot of attention from passers-by as well as various local media.
Finally, here are a few of the Portobello photographers with their photographs in the exhibition. Now that the group has come together to put on this very successful exhibition perhaps it can continue with another project going forward...
A series of ordinary landscapes made meaningful by names and dates.
This was a mini-project I did while I was at college a decade ago but I wonder if it is something to re-visit in more depth. Considering the historical significance of some of the battles I was surprised how little had been done to protect these locations. Even when there are museums and interpretation centres, the broader 'battlefield' can be spread over a considerable area of which only a fraction has been protected from development. At some of the sites, particularly for the older battles, there are still disputes over the exact location of the key moments in the battle with several different theories from different historians. These images are available as prints on my website, with and without the text. Personally I think the text adds a lot, a connection to an extraordinary past in an apparently ordinary landscape.
Portobello Prom is a place for Art. Some of it is official, literally part of the fabric of the Prom like these two modern mosaics close to Westbank/Tumbles.
Other elements are remnants of specific projects, notably the annual Art Walk, which takes place every September. While much of the commissioned public art is temporary, some pieces last longer. The most notable of these is Cressida, the sculpted metal octopus at the end of the groyne at the foot of Bath Street. Initially installed for the first Art Walk in September 2015 she was twice claimed by the sea during winter storms but was successfully rescued and re-installed. (In fact the story of Cressida is probably worth a blog post all of its own, so I'll come back to that!) For now here is a recent picture at a high Spring tide with Cressida almost completely submerged.
Last summer's Art Walk had a strong musical element, including the Bandstands project which is still present on the Prom at the sites of two former bandstands, There is an app related to the project with music and archive photographs to download when you get to the locations.
Great as it is to see these works of art along the Prom, there are also other, unofficial, pieces that appear and stay a while. They can vary in size - some are large and unmissable but others are small and tucked away so you can overlook them if you aren't paying attention. Like the Portobello Public Pencil Sharpening Project installations. So far I have found four of them - I wonder if there are any more?
There were a number of wooden objects at different points along the Prom but most of them seemed to have gone except for the Fish, Fish, Not Fish piece.
I wonder what art will appear next on the Prom?
The first Art Walk Porty back in 2015 with a mixture of art in studios, art in shops and cafes, site specific art, participatory art and a makers' market, all crammed into one weekend. Here are a few of the people involved.
Not long after we moved to Portobello I took a series of photographs of the sea and sky at the foot of Bath Street. It started with a couple of pictures but then became a daily series - one hundred images, fifty-fifty, sea and sky. They were exhibited as part of the 2015 Art Walk Porty - split between The Beach House and Tribe Porty - and for a while remained part of the wall decor in the main room upstairs at Tribe Porty. Prints and wall art of the photographs are available via my online shop - please check it out.
Back on Referendum Day - Thursday 18th September - we were living just off Ferry Road in Edinburgh, in the Edinburgh North and Leith constituency. On the day of the vote I made my way around some of the polling places in that part of the city and photographed many of the people standing outside the polling places, representing the two sides of the debate - Yes and No. There was a lot of mutual respect, almost camaraderie - I guess if you spend hours standing next to someone you are likely to get into conversation and find things in common even when you are on opposite sides of the political divide.
I'm Jon Davey, a freelance community photographer based in Portobello, Edinburgh's seaside suburb