In between the pandemic closures of 2020, Max Miechowski began traveling to the east of England to photograph the parts of the coast which, due to natural erosion, are falling, year after year, day after day, into the sea.
Most often he slept in his car, parked as close to the cliffs as safely possible, getting up at sunrise.
“I was on the beach photographing the cliffs and very often I saw people leaving their homes, in their dressing gowns with a cup of tea, and immediately going to the end of their land to see the damage that had taken place. passed in the night,” he said.
Miechowski, 32, who grew up in Lincoln and is now based in London, traveled from the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, where a landslide had recently knocked a house into the sea, through Hemsby in Norfolk to Yorkshire’s Spurn Point, a narrow peninsula that keeps disappearing; he then sailed up the coast to Withernsea and Skipsea.
” Greenway [in Skipsea] is particularly bad. A whole row of houses there will disappear in five to ten years.
While the edges of the cliffs sometimes crumbled as he worked and the effects of heavy rains, shifting cliffs and sea erosion were all too visible, which he was eager to capture in the work. of two years that became Land Loss was not a dramatic documentary of damage, but the atmosphere of the place and the people who live here, on the edge of England. The images include a portrait of two young sisters, whose grandparents had owned a cafe that fell into the sea, jumping together in a garden. Half Way House captures the surviving facade of an old family home in Hemsby – “The owner cut it in half because otherwise the cliff would have taken it all away. He just wanted to keep the front door and have a reminder of it all In another photo, a butterfly rests on the hand of Dave, a man who found alternative accommodation when his home disappeared but can’t stand living inland.
“He’s so used to the sea and that landscape,” says Miechowski. “He put a caravan on the strip of land that remains. When he dies, he wants his ashes thrown from the cliffs into the sea.”
This way Loss of land becomes a moving and evocative contemplation of passing time.
“The entry point is the reality of the situation. It exists in a documentary way, in the sense that the erosion of the coast is a real story and something is happening, but the images and the interpretation of this situation are much looser, more philosophical.
Miechowski, who was a musician before becoming a full-time photographer seven years ago, became interested in the idea while making A Big Fat Sky, his colorful and critically acclaimed 2019 project about seaside resorts. declining in the east of England. Land Loss is perhaps even more melancholy.
“There is beauty in [the landscape] but also sadness. You watch time go by,” he says. “That was what interested me so much about the people who lived there, this immediate connection to this fact. Living in the city, your reference to time tends to be exponential growth, whereas on the coast everything disappears, the reference is the opposite. So the work became this idea of being like a moth towards a flame, being drawn into this landscape and almost falling off the edge yourself.
The people he photographed and met during the project are coping with the reality of the vanishing earth in different ways. “It’s obviously stressful, but some of them were joking, after seeing the neighbour’s house collapse: ‘Well, we have the sea view now.’ And it’s funny because it’s like, ‘Well, you do it for a bit …’
“Others are very frustrated. They want sea defenses to be put in place, the coastline to be protected, to be stopped. Which I completely understand, but it’s interesting: on paper it says you own that piece of cliff, but if the sea comes and takes it away, that signature or that mortgage means nothing. You do not own this land; it is a construct. In this space, it is futile.
Miechowski’s work, which he shoots with a Japanese medium-format analog camera from the 1980s, has become synonymous with his magical manipulation of natural light, as well as the empathy with which he portrays his subjects.
“I have a pretty romantic outlook on things, and that dreamy backlight — working early in the day or late in the morning — speaks to that,” he says. “It creates softer tones, softer shadows, richer colors; it may be nicer for portraits. It brings a warmth that totally matches my vision and the subject that brings me there in the first place.
Although the loss of land is now complete, he derives from it the meditative vibe he discovered in the process. “I’ve been very interested in philosophy over the past two years and I’m excited to continue exploring how it works with photography,” he says. “Because I wouldn’t have these ideas if I weren’t going to stand on a cliff with a camera.”