It’s mid July 1969. I’m just six years old. Earlier this week I was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night to watch a man walk on the moon, take pictures and collect some rocks. Everyone crowded around a black and white TV at 4am. It is my first coherent childhood memory. You remember stuff like that. From that moment on I’d be fascinated with space. Now we are at Pett Level *.
Someone we know (who knows someone, who owes someone else a favour) has a caravan on this little corner of Winchelsea beach that, for a few years, we borrow for annual family summer holidays. Fascinated with the camera I am allowed to take a picture. Just like Neil Armstrong. This is the first picture I’ve ever taken.
In the picture is my mother, both grandmothers, one great grandmother, a three year old brother and two uncles. It is a bright summer's day. In the background is the caravan we are staying in and the beach before they built the concrete sea defences. As ever, mum is being encouraging. The rest are bored, fidgety and distracted. My dad and both grandfathers aren’t there and I’ve no idea why. Like the moon landing, I’ve never forgotten taking this picture. It had been a big week.
It’s September in 2022. I’m almost 60 years old. I have an afternoon free while Paola helps harvest grapes at Oxney and so I return to Pett Level for one last time. I’ve been here many times in the years since those family holidays, always trying to recapture or remember something. But this one feels different somehow. Final.
As I arrive I have no idea that I’ll photograph the rocks at the end of the beach. The afternoon sun occasionally breaks through the clouds and, when it does, looks good on them. So I do. I decide to do "portraits" of my favourite "pet rocks". In my mind I always remember them as slate grey - like the ones on the moon. In reality they are alive and rich with colour, texture and shadows. It seems they always were.
* Music trivia fans: It’s where Bowie filmed the clown costume beach walk in the video for "Ashes to Ashes".