A Cyclist on the English Landscape

A 12 months in the past, as a journey photographer grounded by the pandemic, I began bringing a digicam and tripod with me on my morning bicycle rides, taking pictures them as if they have been journal assignments.

It began out as simply one thing to do — a problem to attempt to see the acquainted by means of contemporary eyes. Soon it blossomed right into a celebration of touring at residence.

I dwell in a light seaside city known as St. Leonards-on-Sea, in Sussex, on the south coast of England. If you’ve not heard of it, you’re in good firm. It’s not on anyone’s record of celebrated English magnificence spots. Indeed, most of my using is throughout flat coastal marsh or down-at-the-heel seafront promenades.


There’s historical past right here, in fact. This is England in any case. The lonely marshes I pedal throughout most days are the place William the Conqueror landed his males in 1066. Otherwise, aside from being a hang-out for smugglers, this stretch of coast dozed away the centuries till the Victorians introduced the railways down from London.

Then, for a couple of gaudy a long time, St. Leonards and the opposite close by seaside cities grew to become well-liked bucket-and-spade vacation spots, England’s personal Costa del Sol — that’s, till finances airfares and the actual Costa del Sol, the one in Spain, lured the crowds away and plunged the world into an extended and not-so-genteel decline.

As for me, I’m a transplant. I moved right here from Australia. After the preliminary novelty wore off, that of being in England, it assumed a kind of shrugging familiarity — the standard retailers, takeaways, a downbeat seafront, tough across the edges however with not-too-inconvenient entry to Gatwick and Heathrow and flights to extra attention-grabbing locations.

But a 12 months of exploring St. Leonards and its surrounds, digicam in hand, chasing the sunshine, has modified all that. It’s introduced residence the reality that you simply don’t have to board a airplane and jet off to the far facet of the world to expertise a way of journey or the romance of distinction. It lies ready in your doorstep — if you happen to look.

You don’t have to go far. Indeed, I haven’t been in a position to. With the assorted lockdowns which have been imposed on us over the previous 12 months, it’s been both discouraged or downright unlawful to stray far out of your residence. All these pictures have been captured inside a 10-mile radius of the place I dwell, and most of them a lot nearer than that.

I plan my outings and set out every morning properly earlier than daybreak with the intention to be the place I wish to be in time to catch the primary gentle. In summer season that may imply leaving the home as early as 3 a.m. In winter, it’s chilly starlight, the crunch of frost below my wheels, often snowflakes swirling within the glow of my headlamp.

I carry the whole lot I want on my bicycle and work totally alone. I’m each the photographer and the bike owner within the pictures. That half’s taken a little bit of getting used to. I’ve by no means been snug in entrance of the digicam. As a journalist, I’ve all the time stated I had a terrific face for radio and the right voice for print. But wants should when the satan drives. What with social-distancing necessities and nil finances, I’m all I’ve acquired.

These pictures, although, aren’t meant to be about me. They’re meant to characterize a bike owner on the panorama, anyone — you, maybe.

Creating these pictures has required not solely a brand new manner of visualizing, however a complete new photographic ability set. The first query most individuals ask is how I set off the shutter once I’m 100 yards away on my bicycle. Simple. I exploit what’s known as an intervalometer, a programmable timer that enables me to preset no matter delay I want after which have the digicam hearth off a selected variety of frames. That’s the straightforward bit. Anyone can take a self-portrait.

Placing your self artistically within the scene is a far trickier proposition. It requires juggling a maddening variety of particulars, most of which you by no means consider till you begin doing it and look critically on the outcomes. Everything issues, from the drape of sunshine and shadow, to the set of your headlamps, to your physique language on the bicycle. You need to be actor, director, location scout, gaffer, key grip, even wardrobe assistant: I all the time carry a spare jersey or two in several colours to verify I can work with any backdrop.

What’s extra, you must play all these roles in actual time, in quickly shifting gentle, in an uncontrolled surroundings the place automobiles, pedestrians, dog-walkers, horses, cyclists and joggers can — and do! — pop up out of nowhere. It may be massively irritating, and but on the identical time intensely satisfying when all of it comes collectively.

It’s addictive, too. Over the previous 12 months I’ve turn into a eager scholar of native geography — not simply the structure of the cities and the structure and the contours of the panorama, however when and the place the sunshine falls because the seasons progress. I do know the tide tables like an outdated salt and comply with the phases of the moon. I’ve developed a peasant’s eye for climate. I can inform at a look, once I step exterior my door, these mornings when an evocative mist will likely be rising miles away on the marsh. I plan my outings with the identical jaunty expectancy I used to really feel on my method to the airport. And once I push off down the road, the world turns into huge once more, the best way it was once I was a toddler: wealthy intimately, ripe for discovery.

By the time I return to the home, a number of hours later, having witnessed the dawn and put nevertheless many miles of Sussex countryside beneath my wheels, I really feel as if I’ve been locations, seen issues, traveled within the grand outdated sense of the phrase.

And, ever the journey photographer, I deliver again photos of the place I’ve been.

Roff Smith is a author and photographer based mostly in England. You can comply with his each day rides on Instagram: @roffsmith.

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