Tides (The Ocean Will Have Us All)

“When artist William Arnold began documenting the fluctuating tide line near his home in Cornwall, the strange resulting images provided a starting point for a much wider investigation. These images  offer an unsettling invitation to consider the effects of fluctuating tides - of tourism, sea levels, populations - in a changeable climate. Raising questions about human impact on the beautiful but fragile Celtic fringes of Europe, Arnold’s work presents a local response with global resonance.” 

- Nina Pope & Rhona Dougall (An Tobar, Isle of Mull)


During the months of July and August the population of Britain’s most westerly mainland county doubles, a frenzy of holiday let bookings, campsite bookings, good seafood, bad seafood, surf themed jollity, Cornish piskies, pirates and miners – Poldark. Public services and infrastructure strained in the quiet times buckle and year-round dwellers grumble at traffic jams and entitled attitudes toward what constutes basic civility toward seasonal hospitality staff ... then the tide recedes.

The supposed trade-off is an economic lifeline. Traditional industry all but gone, servicing the dreams of the affluent summer crowds all that is left. 

For many years a veneer of wealth in the picturesque coastal towns and fishing villages has masked severe deprivation inland but as in economically similar areas like the Welsh Valleys, formerly reliant on solid blue-collar industrial jobs, poverty was widespread but mostly people got by, housing in these places at least was relatively affordable on a low income and there were places to rent.

Now that has changed. Home-working practices gathering pace before coronavirus have become commonplace allowing those with equity from the wealthy southeast to permanently relocate, escaping the city and driving up the already high price of real estate with a knock-on effect way beyond the tourist towns as former locals are finally irreversibly priced out. Easy credit and a long-term propping up of the economy by the encouragement of buy-to-let has turned houses into investments not homes*.  

These photographs of popular beaches in high summer Cornwall are photographed using a continuous exposure of 90 minutes. During that time depending on the state of tide a couple of feet of land is ceded or gained. People arrive; bask, play, swim. In echoes of Louis Daguerre’s[1] shoe-shine boy those determined sunbathers are preserved as ethereal traces, yet the main evidence for the population of these packed playgrounds are the windbreaks, towels and stranded paddleboards each marking a temporary encampment on the sand.

* In June 2021, Cornwall had more than 10,290 active Airbnb listings across the county, whilst there were only 69 rental properties available on Rightmove.[2] As of 31 July 2021, that number has dropped to 41.  £50 million of covid relief funds (27% of the Cornwall total) has been given by Cornwall Council to 5000 holiday lets which are classified as small businesses. A a majority are registered to addresses outside the county[3] while average house prices in the county run at 9 times median wage.

[1] Louis Daguerre’s 1838 photograph of the Boulevard du Temple, Paris is generally accepted as portraying the first live human figure in a photograph. Despite the 17 minute exposure the shoeshine boy and his customer were still long enough to appear.

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/may/30/staycation-boom-forces-tenants-out-of-seaside-resort-homes

[3] https://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/2020-04-27/owners-of-holiday-lets-in-cornwall-have-claimed-50m-of-government-coronavirus-grants

Porthminster, Cornwall, August 2014

Kynance Cove, Cornwall, August 12th 2021

Praa Sands, August 25th, 2021 

Porthtowan, Cornwall, August 4th, 2021

Gunwalloe, Cornwall, August 25th 2021

Porthcurno, August 13th, 2021 

Perranporth, Cornwall, August 10th, 2021

Gyllyngvase, August 23rd, 2021 

All photographs are digitally derived positives from a 5x4” paper negative exposed in camera for 90 minutes.