Welcome

Over 20 years of photography has led to this point.

Supertography is a collective of fine art and landscape images by British photographer Tom Barnes. Each image is interwoven with the stories of the journey it took to make them. Story telling is a huge component of Tom’s images, as he adds dimension and depth to his photographs with inspiration and personal perspective. This is an evolving series of stories, told in photographs.

This website has been designed so that you can experience each collection in an involving and evolving way. Each series is designed so that you travel ‘through’ the website and the stories immersively, as you might in an illustrated book, magazine or real life gallery. Each of the images are available as limited edition signed prints by following the links throughout the stories. New collections of images and stories will be released periodically on the website (keep an eye on Supertography social media for upcoming release dates and news).  There will be information on workshops, individual training and exhibitions. Make sure to follow Tom on the social media links above to find out more on the ‘making of’ the series, the work on the next collection as it happens, as well as tips, training and inspiration for photographers.

COLLECTION.01

Fistful of Metal

20 powerful images that will make you think.

This is a story in photographs. It is also a photographer’s story; a personal battle and an artistic one. This first collection is the story of sea structures around the south coast of Great Britain and their long-serving fight against the elements. It’s a pictorial journey of ethereal calm to absolute chaos. It is a stark reminder of how vulnerable we are when pitched against nature and time. The majority of these very long exposure images have been shot in my home county of Somerset, but some have been captured further afield, in Devon, Dorset and Sussex. Destruction, survival, chaos and calm. This is truly a ‘Fistful of Metal’…

Vanishing Sea

This picture was far more difficult to get right than the simplicity of it suggests.

First, I was racing with a fast vanishing tide, receding from my feet at over 1 metre per minute. Here, in Brean Somerset is the second fastest tidal system in the world. This seemingly simple, but rapidly changing scene was a race against the elements. And then there is minimalism. It is just plain hard. The subtly of what works and what fails is often hard to even verbalise, let alone photograph. And this image was no exception.

To be honest, I fail more often than I succeed, but it does make that eventual success even more worthwhile.

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"This series of photographs has been a personal battle as well as an artistic one"

Timeline

This is Birnbeck Pier in Somerset, a real bridge back to the past, out to the stranded island of Birnbeck. If you were able to still walk the quarter mile length of the old pier it would deliver you to an abandoned fairground island. At 149 years old it is still standing. Just.

The island holds the remains of the old attractions that once attracted hundreds of thousands: a skating rink, a bioscope (an early cinema), a water chute ride and an early flying machine. In 1941 it began a tougher life: it was closed to the public and turned into HMS Birnbeck – a secret facility for weapons testing.

Then the island was seriously damaged by a British plane dropping a dummy bouncing bomb, destroying much of the structure. It was patched up but ripped apart by severe storms and finally abandoned altogether in 1994. Now it is caught between two worlds: too expensive to rescue, too special to remove.

Mother Nature is finally taking care of the last clean up. 149 Years being deleted before your very eyes.

Tidal Path

There are only a few times of the day you can cross this bay in the sea in Weston Super Mare. When the tide is high, you can barely make out the top of the fence posts from the sea covering them, nearly completely submerged. I quite liked this idea. Running the gauntlet against the second fastest tide in the world.

So I turned the receding tide into a mist with a 6 minute exposure and the tripod nearly half underwater.

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Chiseled

It was very nearly dark when this shot was taken in Ladram Bay, on the Jurassic Coast in South Devon. At the time I just liked the birds and outline of the rock. Then, staring at the scene a little longer, like a developing a polaroid photo, the image came to life.

The two resting seagulls on the rock appeared as teeth. The rock had changed. I could no longer see a rock. Maybe the Kraken. Or just an old man, battered and tired, just keeping his head above the onslaught of the tide.

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Green Mile

This is the beautiful Vicorian pier in Clevedon, Somerset and is one of only four colour images in this series. The colour of this image was actually a complete accident that I fell in love with. The pier is actually clad with green copper, but the overall image got it’s green tone by virtue of the glass ND filter I used on the camera to take the image, which has a heavy colour cast.

Normally I would balance and remove the colour effect an optical filter has. But in this image, it just added to the mood and serenity of the pier spanning the green tide, stretching out over the mile gap to Wales across the Bristol Channel.

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Facing Doris

I had spent the winter waiting for a decent storm. I knew the type of image I wanted to headline the Fistful of Metal collection. Chaos amongst the calm.

The British weather can normally be so ably relied upon to deliver wintery misery and devastation. Nothing. Not even a whimper. But then came the promise of Storm Doris, gathering pace across the Atlantic. To intercept the storm, I leapt in the car to speed 6 hours across country to Newhaven in Sussex. The status of Doris, was now being described as a ‘storm bomb’, a perfect storm expected to wreak havoc..

Doris lived up to her promise, if not her own misleading name. Winds were gusting upto 90 mph, making standing upright nearly impossible, let alone holding the camera tripod to the ground. After 5 hours of battling, Doris produced some great images of sheer power and the humbling force of nature. But this image holds many more messages than that. In each of these massive waves, there are faces cascading onto the battered lighthouse. Some are a little unnerving. In fact, the meaning of the name ‘Doris’ comes from ancient Greek mythology: she is the daughter of Oceanus and a sea nymph.

Doris, you did not disappoint.

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Brought to light

Emerging from under the receding waves in the distance is the wreck of an old Norweigan shipping vessel, the SS Nornen. Her bones have been here on Berrow beach for nearly 120 years. All the lines in the sand and those in the sky lead you to her resting place, only revealed at certain times of the day, most of the time keeping her sea cloak firmly on. From a distance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the old ship carcass for something more sinister. A leviathon of the deep, trapped on these savage mud flats.

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Rocket Man

This little guy is on a 120 year long charm offensive at Black Nore. An incredible old structure of such detail and character, that even when it was scheduled for destruction, the local community petitioned to save it, even bringing back it’s original Fresnel lamp and lens. Sitting proudly upon the launch pad, ready for lift off, this amazing old structure has seen over 90,000 tides, and probably more vessels than that, travel the Bristol Channel. No wonder he’s standing so tall.

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Sea Chimes

Sea Chimes. Chasing a fast retiring sea on Brean beach took some nimble footwork. Standing at exactly the point the sand turns to the infamous mudflats, I was balancing on the edge of getting the shot and getting heavily stuck. But I was rewarded with an image that has more components than I set out to achieve. The vanishing point of the wooden sea groynes combined with the reflections and textures in the sand and mud gave the image balance, but also this look of a wind chime in the sea. I did make it back ok, thanks for asking.

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"I have grown up here and seen both the terror and the stunning beauty"

Last Laugh

The Cobb in Lyme Regis, Dorset is one of Britains oldest sea defence structures, dating back to 1313. Angled sharply towards the attacking sea, many a misguided visitor has been swept off its surface into the currents below. The birds often seem to appear for a front row seat, as if humoured by human choices. I have grown up here, and seen both the terror and the stunning beauty of this old breakwater, holding centre stage in this old fishing town on Dorset’s Jurassic coast. I had to risk the danger of being swept out myself for this shot, but I wanted to share this story. The man just managed to escape the clutches of the clawing waves. Damp, but alive and in need of a change of pants.

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Lighting The Silver Horizon

Framed Lighthouse

At the harbour gate of the little town of Watchet in Somerset stands this little protector of the divide. Looking out over a silver sea to South Wales, I was drawn to the stark symmetry and minimalism of this shot. Long exposure photography is so often like that of old Polaroid film: you never know exactly what you’ll get until the film ‘develops’ or in this case the 8-minute exposure ends. It’s part of the magic. I certainly fail more often than I succeed, but occasionally I’m rewarded for my sheer persistence.

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Kissing Doris

After months of planning and preparation, this is the storm I was waiting for, and the image I intended to capture in Newhaven, Sussex. This is very close to the mental preconception of the image anyway, even before Doris showed her true character. I was drawn to this crazy theatre of all the elements at play: the goliath breakwater structure, gripping the lighthouse above, brought alive by the enormous storm drains exhausting thousands of tonnes of violent water. I needed the structures to be taking a maximum pounding by a boiling sea and the storm drains to be breathing liquid fury.

I arrived at daybreak to witness exactly that, with seagulls swirling around the lighthouse in the force 9 wind. An incredible scene, made even more intense by the shape of massive waves, resembling some kind of gargoyles of the deep.

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Gold Reserve

This incredible golden sunset was captured in Watchet, North Somerset. Originally intended to be a black and white image, full of ethereal silver tones, I couldn’t bring myself to overwrite the original twilight colour. This image is a living example of why I cannot be purely a black and white photographer.

Some images, even if intended to be monochrome, cry out to live in the glory of their own colour. So really, this picture won the battle against me: gold in a sea of silver.

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My Better Side

The irony of the apparent simplicity of this photograph couldn’t be more pronounced for me. I drove 2 hours to Portishead in Somerset, 5 days in a row to capture this image. Yet it looks so simple, and minimal.

Well, let me tell you, minimalism is just plain hard. This fog horn and light beacon at Battery Point is one ugly duckling. I have photographed it from nearly every angle, at dawn and dusk. Nothing excited me. I couldn’t get it to work. I spoke to a fisherman sitting on the rocks beside it and asked about the tides here. That changed things. To get this shot I had to wait for an equinox spring tide, a bi-annual event, to get the 14m tide I needed to cover the rocks and base of the structure. I also needed that to happen with the right weather, coinciding with twilight, and have a composition that was visually appealing. No small feat then, my ugly friend. But I love it when an impossible plan comes together.

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Last Legs

I found the old West Pier in Brighton a fascinating scene to photograph. Sadly destroyed by pointless arson then ravaged by several massive storms.

If you look closely you can see large parts of the structure that have fallen into the sea around her feet. A carcass representing so many people’s memories in this relic of the Vicorian era. She won’t be around for much longer, as the sea completes its un-ending clean up. But it is a mighty last stand.

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Ribs Of A Relic

There is certainly a running theme in the Fistful of Metal collection: the more simple and minimilist the final shot appears, the more complicated it was to take. This image is no different, but finally I got the shot
I planned of this old wreck of the SS Nornen. I also experienced first hand how easy it is to get overcome by these tides. Beautiful and deadly. As those who sailed in this old Norwegian trade ship found over 120 years ago. With tides on these shores claimed as the second fastest in the world, I was quickly overcome by the metre per minute advancing sea. There was no more than a 5 minute window to capture this image, which took 3 minutes to expose, and was the only shot I was able to get. After 6 minutes, the Nornen was submerged and cloaked once again.

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"There is nothing like threading the eye of the needle to get a hard earned photograph."

Fencing The Cloud

This was certainly one of those magic moments when the camera delivered the results of an 8 minute exposure, standing in water up to my knees. I wanted to create a supernatural quality to this image that made it feel as if it was taken in the air, with just the fence posts guiding your attention, containing the wallowing cloud. The reality served a different story, as this tidal marina pool joins the sea, this footpath is totally lost under the water twice a day. If this had really been a cloud, my feet would not been nearly as wet.

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Piering Into The Past.

This little island of Birnbeck is a shadow of its former self. As you stare along the rusted and rotting old Victorian pier, your eyes arrive at the deserted island, stuck out at sea. Most of the houses, shops and prominades are still there, slowly being leveled by the elements. There are two old lifeboat stations on the island, but even they were deserted around 10 years ago.

The whole place is a visual fading memory, a nostaglic but incredibly real demonstration of time and decay. It’a a place that effects almost all of your senses. Once a grand and statuesque Victorian retreat, now a lonely reminder of a time that can’t be reclaimed. Soon the only record of it’s existence will be in photographs captured throughout it’s time. From Victorian glory to modern decay, this place has quite a story.

 

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"A visual fading memory, a nostalgic but incredibly real demonstration of time and decay."

Her Majesty The Pier

This picture was the first I took of the Fistful Of Metal series. It is Clevedon Pier in Somerset. Built during the 1860’s to attract tourists and provide a ferry port for rail passengers, she is often described as the most beautiful pier in Britain. In the 1970s the pier started falling into the sea and demolition was proposed. But instead, the structure was dismantled, repaired and re-assembled. Re-opened in 1989, she still reigns the northern shores of Somerset today. I can say without doubt that she is the Queen of this coastline, and long may she reign.

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Lower Lighthouse

Now this little guy is a little bit special. I know it’s hard to imagine, but he’s actually a lighthouse. A very old one. Made mostly of timber, it’s incredible that he has stood the test of time. Sitting in a steely pool of mercurial water watching the vast 2 mile tide disappear, this guy has been preventing ships running into the sandbanks for nearly 200 years.

I have designs on it becoming my new studio. Or an epic beach hut. Either way, here he is, enjoying another amazing sunset under a mackeral sky. Just another night saving the world for this little dude.

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