I’m off along the Estuary, camera with me. The big one rather than the compact. With the big one they all expect something of you, even though you are just a snapper. Something to do with cost and size and expectation. Big cameras make you look professional even when you are not. Trouble is my Nikon D90 does take good pics. The long lens brings in distant subjects. The wide angle takes brilliant landscapes. When you point it you have an idea of what you are going to get.
With the Lave fishermen – these are the guys who sail out into the muddy Estuary below the Severn Bridge and fish with nets that look like something from the Sea of Galilee – it’s all laughter about how I might go flat on my back in the mud fields – glutinous stuff everywhere but on the camera. “He’ll protect that, you see.” Says Martin to his fishing companions, “just like that TV documentary man last week.” I don’t fall, in case you wondered. But I did get out there in the boat on the tidal waters and I took some great pics of men up to their chests in waders, hunting salmon. Didn’t catch any. Not a thing. “I’m off next week on holiday, “ Martin says. “Anywhere nice?” “Going to Ireland. Fishing trip, you know”. What else.
Going round Aberthaw Power Station is another matter. When there’s someone talking to you then you just can’t concentrate on taking pictures. It’s as much as I can do to point and shoot, hoping something I wanted will get in through the lens. This is where the compact comes into its own. Unpretentious. Easy to hold. Weighs nothing. Works every time. Don’t line anything up, to hell with the light and the focus, just hope. I use this as a sort of aide memoire, a notebook, I tell them. Saves me from having to write things down. “You go ahead”, they say, “take what you want.”
At Port Talbot it’s different. Here I have the big Nikon because I need it to see into the distance, because I want to try to make something of this industrial intrusion among the perfect sand dunes, because what’s there in front of me is so amazing. Full of fire and smoke and flying dust. I’ve walked up along the beach, top of the bund the Tata steelworks have built to keep the marauding sea back. The beach is a long yellow gleam of a thing and it’s totally empty. Not even a man in the distance digging for worms. I’ve got here on a public path and, far as I know, I’m still on it. Although I have to say it’s beginning not to feel quite like that. What with the thunder of heavy lorries and the grind of the conveyor belt and proximity of emissions and smog.
The guard who stops me, puts me into his gleaming, light flashing vehicle and drives me off site. He could demand my memory card at any second. He’s on the radio. “Pair of members of the public here illegally. Yep. One of them has a camera. Yes a camera. That’s right.” Hell, like being caught with dope or porn by your parents. I try to hide it, slide it round my back, hope it gets lost next to the daysack. You are not allowed to take photos here, I’m told, firmly. Sorry, I mutter. But to be fair he's pretty reasonable after that.
It was the same thing when we stopped the car half way across the site of the Dong power station outside Newport. John Briggs and I quietly shooting a road sign that reads DIVERSION WHEN FOGGY. Urban surrealism. Signs of the future. States of mind. A van arrives with lights flashing. “You can’t do that, you’re not authorised”. Hell no. It’s such a dangerous medium this photography. Shows the world the world and lots of people are not happy with that. It upsets people in a way that writing usually doesn’t. Why is that?
Peter Finch is currently researching his forthcoming Seren title Edging the Estuary – Where Wales Runs Out. Cameras, security guards, sea walls, wave cut platforms, gouts and fire, mud, menace, power and people will all feature. Watch this space for further details. It’ll be a while yet.
The Lave Fishing photos are here http://www.flickr.com/photos/peterfinch/sets/72157627430789629/