Saltburn Pier - A Series of Fortunate Events

This photograph of Saltburn Pier on Yorkshire’s East Coast is a bit of a lucky charm. It was the first picture we sold  after taking over The Old School Muker, settling our nerves on our opening day, and the first picture to sell from the wall in our very first exhibition. 

It depicts the Pier at sunset, the ebb tide leaving a wonderful, glassy reflection of both sky and pier; clouds reflecting the orange of the setting sun;  breakers delineating the shore and sky; the sun’s last rays picking out the wind turbines in the far distance. 

The image itself came about by sheer chance. Taken in February on a day trip to the North York Moors when a (literal) flip-of-a-coin decision found us driving into Saltburn just as the sun dipped below the horizon. The timing was perfect; the light perfect; the ebbing tide perfect; the people on the pier perfectly positioned. Even with rigorous planning this just doesn’t happen!  

The camera, a Sony RX1rII, had a fixed 35mm lens, so no need to worry about focal length. I’d left my tripod at home, so no opportunity to blur the water or let the light dip; just walk onto the beach, find a position, check exposure, focus, compose and shoot; photographic purity!  40 minutes and a few more photos later we were driving home across the Moors, headlights tunnelling through the winter night; our first and last visit to Saltburn. 

Camera balanced on some railings with a 10p piece employed to tilt it down. Who needs a tripod!

Many months later, as we anxiously readied the gallery the evening before our opening day, there was a gap on the wall, partially hidden behind a door.  I had no photographs of Swaledale, so wasn’t planning to show any of my own work … but, by chance, I had a framed copy of Saltburn Pier that just seemed to fit.  

The next day, Thursday April 13th 2017, we opened our doors for the first time. Around mid-morning I saw a lady looking at the photograph. It turned out that the lady, Kathy, was born and raised in Marske by the Sea, a mile from Saltburn, and she was searching for a birthday present for her brother, David, who had a cottage in Muker. I can’t recall why, but as we chatted Kathy asked when the picture was taken, so I found the date on my computer, Sunday February 14th 2016 … and this, as well as being Valentines Day, just happened to be Kathy’s birthday. You couldn’t write it any better!

How many fortunate coincidences - stumbling on Saltburn by chance in perfect conditions, the last minute decision to show the picture, our first customer (in landlocked Swaledale) growing up a mile from the Pier,  the photograph taken on her birthday - does it take to equal fate? I don’t know, but three years on, and knowing now that it was a good decision to buy the gallery, it still feels like fate to me.

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