Industrial Coastline by Teresa Neal - Maiden Publishing UK
While photographic collections concerning the industrial landscapes of America are plentiful in number, those focusing upon England’s ‘green and pleasant’ have been far less frequently attempted. Perhaps this is because the more obvious and dramatic glories and declines of our industries occurred in an earlier era. We have, here, no desolately depressing Detroit to visually catalogue. Nevertheless, as Teresa Neal emphatically demonstrates in Industrial Coastline, the singularities of both current and Post-Industrial landscapes that lay upon our own doorstep are well worth a lingering and considered gaze.
Industrial Coastline specifically documents industry and its place in the environment along the Kent and Sussex coastlines, this delineation enabling Neal to tell a coherent and site-specific story and showing the dramatic contrast of Industrial plants framed against fragile landscapes more usually associated with natural beauty and leisure. Intellectually, Neal’s images reveal the dichotomy between economic need and the inevitable environmental decay that accompanies it. Aesthetically, they reveal a consistently surreal beauty to be found present in utilitarian objects created for singularly prosaic purposes.
One of the most fundamental requirements of the landscape photographer (and one of the most frequently compromised) is the ability to allow the chosen environment to tell its own story. A criterion that Neal excels in; possessing a remarkably unforced vision, always framing the necessary space for her subject matter to reveal meaning rather than attempting to impose meaning upon it. This results in an engagingly understated process allowing her to, cumulatively, hit the spot in a way that a more demonstrative style would preclude.
The book divides neatly into three location/sections, providing a triptych of moods. Section one, Dungeness, holds the darkest and most mysterious tone; images of a community that lives in the shadow of a nuclear power station, a huge complex that dominates this bleak landscape and here the juxtaposition of landmarks is at its most extreme, lending an air of unreality to the whole. What is singular is that the landscape seems to belong to and harmonise with the industrial edifices and it is the presence of human habitation (the underwhelming single story houses and churches) that appears ‘wrong’.
Following from this are images sourced from Newhaven, a flatter more work-a-day environment. Neal adroitly captures and enhances this mood by maximising the number of horizontals in the visual plane; the line of the sea, the docking bays and offsetting them with more dramatic diagonals of cranes and chutes to almost abstract effect wherein dull blues, shabby pinks and gunmetal grey skies predominate.
The most human and playful reflections are left to part three, Seaford. Here some resolution is found between the human and the industrial. While certain starkness is still present the beauties here are more conventional and comfortable to the eye, the human presence less submissive to the landscape and the colours more vibrant, thrilling rather than oppressing. Unlike the ‘blocking’ nature of the Seaford ‘horizontals’ here the natural line perspective of the images seek to draw us into the frame, emphasising the increased hospitality of the environment.
While Neal’s work is clearly influenced by such luminaries as Bill Brandt and more particularly Edward Burtynsky (although her sense of scale and perspective is noticeably different), her vision remains very much her own. There is both a lightness of touch and a bone-dry humour present that adeptly captures the sheer oddness, incongruities and, most of all, the strange complexities of feeling that are engendered by these thoughtlessly created but thoughtfully perceived Industrial landscapes.
Keiron Phelan – 2013
Saatchi Gallery Art and Music Magazine
© Maiden Publishing UK may not be reproduced without permission.
About the Author
Keiron Phelan is a musician and writer.