S A N D
This is a visual exploration of Newton and Merthyr Mawr sand dunes. Situated in South Wales, this unique ecosystem covers nearly 1000 acres and is incredibly diverse in terms of landscape and human history. Sand has settled on top of the ancient limestone cliffs creating a special habitat for insects, fungi and plants. There are areas of grasslands, saltmarsh, beach and woods within the reserve. Historical remnants from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Roman times have all been discovered there.
The entire ecosystem is based and built on sand. This visual investigation demonstrates the collaboration between humans and the natural world. To photograph this dunes environment means capturing the diverse history, landscape and stories of the dunes, via different photographic formats and processes.
This is a collection of works that can be read both as an interrelated whole (the dunes) and autonomously.
These are my dunes
These are our dunes.
They are mine.
They are yours.
They belong to us.
They belong to Earth.
These dunes are good.
And they are made of so many good things.
They give us so many good things.
They give. And we take. But we take from the dunes graciously.
Let my bones turn to sand
Sand; the shifting foundation of the dunes. Made from quartz, minerals, shells and all forms of rock, it has been estimated that a billion grains of sand are born every second. The world’s most ubiquitous and fundamental material is both a medium and a tool for the dune’s gigantic and ever changing landscape. Within this small study we see a broad view of sand, followed by a macro photograph, and finally an individual grain of sand, photographed with a microscope at 40x magnification. Our universe contains at least 70 septillion stars. Astronomers estimate there exist roughly 10,000 stars for each grain of sand on Earth. When you stand on the beach, consider this fact, and then consider your place in the universe.
Boundless by time, they built these walls for war
The world war one rifle ranges an important part of the dunes. Separating Newton Burrows from Merthyr Mawr dunes they are a direct impact of man’s influence upon this landscape. Nature is attempting to regain control by slowly and evenly breaking down these concrete and metal structures. The dunes will eventually reclaim this area as its own.
Two military shooting ranges operated intermittently in the Newton Burrows area, at the western end of the site from the 1914-18 war until 1967. The concrete target structures are still visible. Williams (2020) says “During the later stages of World War II the range was used by American troops from the 28th Infantry Division who were based in and around Porthcawl. General Dwight D Eisenhower inspected the troops at the range on 1st April 1944 before they headed off to Normandy”.
Gold and green softly soaring
Marram grass runs right through the dunes. It borders the dunes and the sea and it creates a wash of vibrant gold and green as it merges with the sand and sea shore. It is an integral part of the dunes system, binding the sandy soil and holding in place the structure and very Earth of the dunes. By using a brass base and gelatin cyanotype, the gold of the dunes and blue of the Bristol Channel shines through.
In the Tower
The long lost mediaeval Windmill, constructed at the start of the 1400s, was only recently discovered over Merthyr Mawr dunes. Circular in shape and initially used to grind corn it is nestled between thick undergrowth and now resides in a tangle of trees. It is a beautiful structure that harks back to a time past. Coflein (N/D) states “A ruined circular building, 5.0m in diameter, its remains standing up to 4.0m high, with battered walls 0.7m thick and two opposed entrances: the building emerged from the sands of Merthyr Mawr warren, in about 1823, and is thought to be later medieval, being set within an area thought to have been engulfed by sand in and around the sixteenth century. The windmill can be associated with other, possibly medieval features recorded in this area. The site is depicted and annotated as ‘Old Windmill’ on the Ordnance Survey first edition 25in mapping of 1877, as ‘Round Tower (Supposed Windmill)’ on the second and third editions of 1899 and 1919 respectively and as ‘Windmill (Remains of)’ on the fourth edition of 1941 . The remains are of a type of primitive, shorter, parallel-sided mill, similar to those across the channel in Somerset”.
Pillars of Rock
The black rocks at the Newton end of the dunes are an otherworldly landscape. Divide of plant life the barnacle encrusted rocks reach skyward from the ground, creating a landscape that is somewhat akin to the moon. At high tide these rocks are entirely submerged and have caused many a catastrophic event for passing boats and ships. An area of doom, that also has an entirely wondrous sense of beauty.
Salt of the Earth
The salt marshes at the very end of the dunes are an amazing place. At high tide they are totally submerged, while at low tide formations, cracks and pools of standing saltwater emerge. Because of the tidal flow, remnants of human impact scatter this section of the landscape as the sea and tidal surge wash up the Ogmore river and deposit all kinds of man-made debris upon the Saltmarsh.
The Scars that Humans Leave
Within Newton Burrows sand dunes there are swathes of ‘empty space’ that have been created by the gravel quarries that used to be prevalent on the site. Sand and gravel extraction took place along the entire length of the foredunes from Newton Burrows to the Ogmore river between 1937 and 1973. This extraction has resulted in large areas of bare gravel and an extensive system of trackways which are still apparent and run parallel to the shore behind the foredunes. These scars remind us of the past. They represent the aftermath of a traumatic event; they are articulations within the wider power-geometries of space.
A Sunday Smile
Tourism is an integral and important part of the dunes. Situated at the end of Porthcawl (a tourist town in South Wales) Newton Beach is a haven for holidaymakers. Locals and those travelling from afar enjoy its sandy shores and crashing waves and it is the ideal playground to put toes in the sand. Photographed on polaroid film, this snapshot of tourism on the dunes reveals modern life melding with an ancient landscape.
The Vast and Seamless Sea
As the waves crash on the beach, sand shifts and water moves, creating ever-changing patterns and abstractions on the seashore. These cyanotype‘s represent a single crashing wave as it breaks on photographic paper, washing sand and salt water over the surface. The resulting multi layered textual image is a representation of a single wave on breaking on Newton beach. It is an image made by the landscape.
The Hillside Bracken Shines like the River
To enter Newton Burrows and Merthyr Mawr sand dunes is to pass into a different world in which we are transformed. Away from daily life, this is the environment in which we soar. These six A1 ‘landcyans’ are images made by the dunes environment. They have been created over a period of 24 hours over the dunes as wet cyanotypes, then a further 24 hours over the dunes, resoaked and ‘inked’ to allow the wind and rain to form pattern and shape. Imagery formed by sun, rain, wind and hail. Imagery made by sand, bracken, leaves and soil. These images are made by the land.
So Light, the Wind it Shakes; So High, the Sky We Scrape
Grasslands, saltmarsh, beach and woods. The diversity of habitat within Newton and Merthyr Mawr warren is enormous. The ever present sand punctuates the landscape continuously and permeates the ground on scales both microscopic and vast. When seen from above, the variety of ground that can be trampled underfoot is remarkable. These combination drone and gum bichromate images form an abstract and shifting view of an abstract and shifting landscape.
The Sun Ablaze
In the springtime an abundance of wildflowers emerges from the sandy soil. A wealth of colour is imbued upon the landscape as the warmth of spring allows plants to bloom. These CyanoLumens are created by washing photographic paper in the running streams of the dunes and using the sun’s rays to embed an image of the flowers onto the surface of the paper.
Salt Beads on your Skin
The beach that runs from Newton Point to the mouth of Ogmore river is 2 kilometres in length and is home to a diverse range of rockpool life. The high tide line is made from a variety of different natural surfaces, and as you move along the beach you will find wave cut platforms, sand, fossil impregnated rock, shells and pebbles. Photographed every 100 metres with a pinhole camera on 5x4 transparency film, this micro study creates views captured from the edge of the dunes.
Skies Yawning Wide
With sea behind you, the views of the dunes and surrounding landscape change as you progress along the 2 km beach that runs from Newton Point to the mouth of Ogmore river. Marram blocked views and big skies welcome you into the dunes, and paths from the beach entice you in. Photographed on 5x4 transparency film, with a pinhole camera, the timeless sensation that the dunes exudes becomes apparent.
Miles of fences run through the dunes. In recent years cattle owned by the Merthyr Mawr estate have been allowed to graze on the land. The fencing is in place to keep the cattle within certain areas of the dunes. Also, in recent years wild boar have been re-introduced into the area and the whole of the dunes ecosystem is an area for conservation.
Down to Earth Sinks the Sun
At night the dunes come into their own; they are an amazing place to run and wander. The stars and moon illuminate the paths and the sand underfoot turns bright white with an iridescent glow. The night wildlife awakens and new sounds fill the air. Human noise ceases; you hear nothing but the sound of the night animals.
Still I go to the Deepest Grave, Where I go to Sleep Alone
Life extinct litters the rocks on the shore of Newton Beach. Fossilised plants and sealife, in particular Crinoids, lay as rock within rock; a tangible link to the history of these wonderful dunes.
The Wind Whips
Cyanotype off-cuts and pigment inks in sea water. These are disused cyanotype experiments that I took to the dunes and submerged in a tray of sea water. I then added pigment inks to them. These images have been created by the sea and the landscape...
We are of this Place, and we Don’t Want to Leave it
The people who use the dunes are as diverse as the landscape itself. Dog walkers, nature lovers and those in need of escape use the dunes for a wealth of reasons. Health, holidays, exercise; it is such a fabulous landscape that you don’t need a reason to enjoy the dunes. In any weather this environment brings peace, solace, friendship, love and a sense of well-being. Nods and smiles as you pass on the sandy trails let you know that this environment is loved and respected. This is a special place.
This culmination of 16 weeks of visual investigations and nearly 5000 images, is condensed into an exhibition as diverse as the environment in which the work was created. The exhibition showcased still imagery captured via many photographic processes and an audio installation.
'S A N D' - 4th - 18th June 2021 was held at UNIT 9, Friars Walk, Newport.