My first thought when considering documentary photography in St Leonards and Hastings, is that it’s hard to fail. The place present’s a wonderful mish mash of life, from all walks, full on and in colour. What then makes a photo collection, a book, be more than a question of point and shoot?
In answer, Waller’s work documenting the life and people of St Leonards and Hastings, is simply direct and joyful, artfully bringing out the flavour of the place. He captures scenes we may have seen many times going about our day, but perhaps not noticed the moments deeply enough to pause, absorb and consider them. The book allows us the luxury to re-encounter those moments through Waller’s eye, at the same time as enjoying new ones.
There is much to commend the book, not least it is well curated, each of the images in the double page spreads connecting to each other in a variety of ways. Whether by the colourful typography of shop and street signage creating horizonal jumbles of colour and text traveling across the pages or the juxtaposition of Christian and Muslim holy men in their respective places of worship. One of my favourites is the placement of a model Eiffel Tower (in my friends’ garden) next to that of a model palm tree on the beach. The book is full of these juxtapositions, each making the individual images stronger.
Waller’s playful humour comes across throughout, in one image we have summer bank holiday bikers riding into town along the front, with their leather, their helmets and heavy-set motor bikes next to an image of the annual naked bike ride, cyclists winding out of town along the front, on their slim, lightweight machines, wearing only their sunhats and a smile (I presume).
He clearly revels in taking notice, from the town’s architecture to its environment, from multiple reflections in windows to colourful paraphernalia out and about. For me the most engaging images are of people, for the most part they are captured going about their business, enjoying one of the many festivals or engaged in social connection. A shirtless young man with his dog, shakes the hand of an aging woman across her walking frame in the street with ear-to-ear grins all around. The proprietor of a vintage clothes shop adjusts her own attire in the shop window, nestled amongst and indistinguishable from her female mannequins. I could go on.
Finally, and for those who know the area well, the book brings another layer of enjoyment, guessing where the photo was taken, which event it might be documenting and surprising moments when you recognise a world-renowned local composer and concert pianist in the laundrette.
This is an upbeat celebration of the spirit of a community living life on its own terms, and I enjoyed it very much.
With around 100 colour images, in an A5 landscape paperback book preiced at £11.99, it is available from:
The Bookkeeper Bookshop, Kings Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, @thebookkeeperbookshop1066
Waterstones, Priory Meadow Shopping Centre, 15-16 Kings Walk, Hastings
or directly from the photographers web site.
“In St Leonards and Hastings I have been fortunate to have experienced a wonderfully positive sense of people and place. I can only hope in return my photographs offer an insightful glimpse for people both now and in the future of the very special qualities of this astonishing resort.” JJ Waller, November 2022.