Environmentalists from Suffolk put nature’s power in the spotlight with new exhibition

Steve Aylward with his work.
Two prominent Suffolk environmentalists Steve Aylward and Mike Harding

Steve Aylward with his work. Two prominent Suffolk environmentalists Steve Aylward and Mike Harding are staging a photographic exhibition at The Cut, Halesworth, to illustrate coastal change. - Credit: Archant

Change is the only constant on the East Anglian coast – and if anyone needs confirmation of that all they have to do is ask the residents of precarious clifftop homes at the mercy of a scouring, seemingly greedy North Sea or low-lying marshland vulnerable to storm surge and sea level rise.

Two prominent Suffolk environmentalists Steve Aylward and Mike Harding are staging a photographic ex

Two prominent Suffolk environmentalists Steve Aylward and Mike Harding are staging a photographic exhibition at The Cut, Halesworth, to illustrate coastal change. Mike Harding with some of his work. - Credit: Archant

Life around the region’s fringes is life on the front line. It is life at the interface of terra that is not-so firma and waves that sometimes serenely lap the shore and sometimes crash in with brutal, frightening and irresistible force.

Two of East Anglia’s leading environmentalists have explored this thin, unstable battleground where change wrestles with constancy, and where change invariably wins. Mike Harding and Steve Aylward, both of whom are as accomplished in photography as they are in environmental matters, are staging “Landscape and Narrative”, a thought-provoking photographic exhibition at The Cut, Halesworth.

It is an exhibition that expresses the subtleties of the East Anglian coast as well as the destructive powers of coastal erosion that are anything but subtle. It is a “beauty and the beast” display that re-affirms the overwhelming power of nature to claim and seize.

Mr Harding, formerly Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s reserves manager who now works from Norwich as a freelance ecological consultant, examines what he calls the “narrative” of the coast through the structures and buildings found along East Anglian shores and those further afield, in such locations as the Isle of Wight and Dungeness, in Kent.

Tank Trap, Shingle Street, by Steve Aylward

Tank Trap, Shingle Street, by Steve Aylward - Credit: Archant


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His 22 photographs on display range from intimate studies of tiny beach rivulets that show microscopic change as the waves gently flow into them, to the dramatic aftermaths of wild, raging storms, such as the pitiful shell of a ruined clifftop home at Hemsby, Norfolk, after last December’s notorious North Sea surge.

“I have been looking at the geological processes of erosion and I suppose the most striking example is that home at Hemsby,” said Mr Harding, who has an MA in photography from the Norwich School of Art. “You of course feel sympathy for the residents but if you build a home on an eroding coast, what do you expect?”

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His photographs were a “reminder” or a “re-affirmation” of the powers of nature, he said. “They are all about the geological cycle – all our building materials come from geological deposits and the sea will take them back. It reminds us that we have no real power and, for example, it may make us think why have we built a nuclear power station on an eroding coast and why would we want to build another one there?”

Mr Aylward, who is head of property and projects for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, explores the landforms and ecology of the Suffolk coast in his 20 striking and distinctive black-and-white studies on display.

Pagodas, Orford Ness, by Steve Aylward

Pagodas, Orford Ness, by Steve Aylward - Credit: Archant

“I grew up in Dorset where the coast has dramatic cliffs but here in Suffolk there is a subtlety that is in enormous contrast to that,” he said. “After to moving to Suffolk and exploring the coast and photographing it I have developed a relationship with it, but capturing the coast is quite a challenge.

“This is a changing landscape and the photographs remind us that so much is being taken by the sea – things such as Second World War structures and sea defences and the like.

“The exhibition reflects how I see the landscape. I do not look upon it as a documentary style as such – it is about capturing the essence of a changing landscape,” he added.

“Landscape and Narrative” runs at The Cut, Halesworth, until November 26.

Fisherman's Shack, Walberswick, by Steve Aylward

Fisherman's Shack, Walberswick, by Steve Aylward - Credit: Archant

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