I spent my childhood on the cold and wild coast of the North East of England, and as an adult, I’ve returned time and again to the sea. Moonlight is a lonely labour of love; I have now spent more than four years venturing to the English, Italian, Scottish, and Welsh coasts on dark nights, with only the moon to light my way.
Every since the first whispers of lycanthropy in First Century Europe, the full moon has carried with it the promise of magic and madness. In science and in folklore, the lunar phase has been associated with insomnia and fitful, disrupted sleep. I only shoot my Moonlight pictures during the full moon, waiting each month for its arrival.
These images are hard-won, requiring one to three-hour exposures in unpredictable weather. Often, I struggle to see my camera in front of me in the moonlight, relying instead on instinct, touch, and training to open its shutter. I use large format film, and I am lucky if I get one image in a month.
These are photographs of places, but they are also photographs of time passing. Over the course of these pivotal midnight hours, the tides come and go; the clouds shift positions, and the skies might grow stormy at any moment. The shutter remains open, and the camera records all the details that are too short-lived for the human eye to register.
Moonlight is ultimately as much about illumination as it is about darkness, recalling the night seascapes of 18th-19th Century European Romantic painting, particularly the works of fellow Englishman J.M.W. Turner, known as “the painter of light,” whose rushing waves and shifting skies routinely veer into the realm of abstraction.
Moonlight is a return to the sea, where I grew up and where all life is believed to have originated, but it’s also a return to the basics of photography. There are no shortcuts in my world, and of course, I am unable to see any of the Moonlight pictures until they are developed. No photoshop, and no instant gratification.
These places are familiar to me; I visit them in daylight too, and I have researched many of their histories. But the title Moonlight has a dual meaning: not only were the images created under the glow of the full moon, but some of them recall scientific photographs of lunar landscapes, forever ingrained in our collective memory. They both are and are not of this planet.
Human activity and development are destroying some of our planet’s coastlines, but Moonlight is not a eulogy to what’s lost. It’s a homecoming to all the places we might have forgotten somewhere along the way. It’s also an enduring reminder that when all is said and done, the feral ocean never bends to the whims of mankind.
We see traces of human life in many of the Moonlight photographs— lights, trails, concrete— but while we might own these places during the day, they belong to the sea and the moon at night. For this reason, the Moonlight pictures might be unnerving to some viewers, but for others, like me, they are a comfort and a respite from a busy, noisy world.