Lively, but not crowded. Spacious, but nor empty. Clean, but not sterile. Stylish and yet not designed but randomly mixed and grown over time. Modern, but full of history. All of this is Hastings, a lovely town on the British seaside and a wonderfully picturesque location for street, architecture, and landscape photographers alike.
Hastings isn’t a small town. With a population of 90000 people, it is the 66th largest city in the UK. Only when climbing one of the two hills of the city, the East Hill, and West Hill, you can see that Hastings reaches inland quite a bit. These hills define the landscape of the city and therefore its appearance as you walk through it. The flair of Hastings is also defined be the relatively small old town, city center, and, last but not least, the seaside promenade with the beautiful new pier which reopened in April 2016.
Architecture in Hastings is unique. Clearly, here is a city which was not designed by brilliant architects but has grown over years of independent decisions. The result is a diversity of all kinds: Shape, color, size, age, and style. And somehow, miraculously, all these individual elements fall into place, creating more than the tasteless architectural mess you might expect, but something more than the sum of its parts – flair and character.
Nowadays, many architectural photographers are influenced by the minimalistic approach of the likes of Joel Tjintjellar and Anna Gospodarou; which are ultra-modern and semi-abstract, pixel perfect and flawless. But while the techniques involved to get this look are applicable here, too, the architecture of Hastings cries for a different approach, because the buildings in Hastings rarely stand out on their own, but only in conjunction with others.
The hills of Hastings play a significant role in this, too. With so many houses built on sometimes relatively steep slopes, they seem to be stacked on top of each other, creating a refreshingly incoherent pattern of materials, textures, colors and styles.
Both, the city center and the Old Town are lively and bustling with activity. I come from a region where shops tend to move from the city centers with expensive parking lots to large malls with free parking, only to be replaced by cheap junk stores and mobile contract sellers, making the city centers less and less attractive. Not so in Hastings. Here, the city still has enough to offer for people to get here and enliven the place.
Not everything is perfect in Hastings, far from it. There are corners here, too, which smell, are unattractive or should be avoided for other reasons. You’ll find trashy gambling halls and more fish’N’chips shops than necessary, especially near the seafront. But I found that the positives outweigh the negatives. And from a street photographer’s perspective, these things aren’t bad but especially interesting anyway.
And then, of course, there are the beach and the pier.
If you have been to the British seaside and seen other piers there before, and therefore have some preconceptions, then you’d better think again. The pier in Hastings is different. Whereas other piers are usually stuffed with gambling halls and fun fair attractions, the Hastings Pier follows an almost minimalistic concept. There is one café, one fish ‘n’ chips shop, a couple of wooden souvenir booths and a bar where you can get cold drinks and other refreshments in summer. The overall design is very stylish with wooden planks being the predominant material.
But there is one more thing which makes the pier unique, and this is space. The whole place is refreshingly empty which makes it a perfect place to wind down and relax. And to take pictures, too. The planks constitute a set of fine lines, and the emptiness allows for the light to permeate through the place and create beautiful moods. Also, in the morning and afternoon or evening, when the sun is low, the light creates great silhouettes of the people who are enjoying the place. And all of this takes place on the beautiful background of the sea, the beach, the cloudy sky, or the „skyline“ of Hastings – an El Dorado for photographers.
When I was in Hastings, I was there as a teacher responsible for about 60 students. Obviously, I didn’t have the time for proper shooting, just for a quick snap here and there. But I know for certain that I’ll be there again – alone and undistracted by other duties… and eager to take some great photos.