Beachy Head lighthouse must be one of the most photographed spots in the UK. But one particular black and white picture of this iconic location, which captures the power and mood of the stunning East Sussex seascape, has cemented an artist’s reputation as one of the finest landscape photographers in the country.
As a child Rachael Talibart spent weekends and school holidays sailing with her family along the Sussex coast. Prone to sea-sickness, the young Rachael would spend hours alongside her father, learning the coast, watching the sea, transfixed by the waves and allowing her imagination to wander. It was a love of the Sussex coast and sea that years later would bring her fame and acclaim.
Rachael trained as a solicitor but had always been a keen photographer ever since her parents bought her a simple camera for her 13th birthday. Some years later, as a newly qualified lawyer, she took a Minolta compact camera on a trip to Australia and New Zealand.
Speaking to Your East Sussex, she said: “That’s when the bug really kicked in. With my first paycheck as a solicitor in the city, I bought my first SLR camera. That’s how it all started.”
Photographer of the Year
And Rachael has not really looked back since. This year she has been crowned Black and White Photographer of the Year having been named Landscape Photographer of the Year in 2016. And her photograph of Beachy Head Lighthouse, shrouded in sea mist and being passed by a flock of gulls, has just been highly commended in this year’s Landscape Photographer of the Year competition.
“It’s one of my favourite pictures but it’s unusual in that I took it while I was running a workshop and I wouldn’t normally have my camera with me when I was teaching. It was just one of those moments, early in the morning and a mist passing the lighthouse. I saw the gulls wheeling about and then there was the picture. That lighthouse has a face, it seems to me, and I thought it looked surprised to see the gulls coming out of the mist.”
Rachael, who runs workshops in East Sussex and other parts of the UK, as well as being a popular speaker on photography, quit the day job three years ago to move into photography full-time. It was a gamble, but one which is paying off big time.
“I started off selling straight-forward landscape shots, places that were recognisable. “ Rachael said. But on a photography course trip to Venice, while all the other participants were looking for shots of gondolas in the early morning mist, she found her niche. “I wanted something different and so I pottered around on my own. Then I saw the shot. It was simple, just five mooring posts in the early morning light. The rest of the picture was empty. There was nothing about Venice in it. It was so quiet, so peaceful, no tourists, just atmosphere and mood. That’s the kind of pictures I make.”
Eastbourne, Newhaven and Seaford might be a little different from Venice but they have made Rachael’s name. Her portfolio of powerful seascape shots Sirens was exhibited at the Oxo Tower in London and has been published as a fine art photography book. The photos came from Newhaven.
“I grew up watching the waves and there’s something incredibly beautiful about the East Sussex coast. It’s absolutely stunning, and there’s nowhere quite like it. I go there pretty much every week, whether running workshops or making my own pictures. My pictures are mainly about mood and atmosphere and you get that from the sea at Newhaven especially.”
Rachael deliberately refers to “making pictures” because, for her, it’s an art a far cry from spontaneous snaps. She said: “I spend ages on pictures. I pre-visualise what I’m trying to capture but everything has to be right: the weather, the sea, the wind, the waves, and mostly the light. I can spend a whole weekend taking photos and not get a single keeper.”
Storm Imogen that lashed the East Sussex coast provided the conditions for the amazing seascape pictures that make up Sirens, but while they show the immense power and danger of the sea, Rachael is very keen to stress the need for safety (be safe on our cliffs). “I don’t do anything that isn’t safe, and I am extremely careful. It’s great to see people inspired by Sirens taking pictures off the same coast as me, but I see people doing stupid things, taking stupid risks. I think my upbringing taught me to respect the see and the coast.”
Her photographic success has changed her life but she insists the dream is there for anyone to achieve, especially the young. “You don’t need all the fancy kit to start out. Just use your phone. Be creative, try different things, different angles, different points of view. Experiment with pictures, do wacky things and don’t worry about what photographic convention says you should be doing.
“I spent my 20s and most of my 30s pushing paper around before all this happened and I now get to spend my life on a beach being lashed by the elements. No one goes to the grave wishing they had spent more time indoors. I love the workshops too – teaching other people, inspiring them, seeing them achieve. It’s so rewarding. I am so happy.”
For more information about Rachael, including the workshops she runs, and to see more of her amazing seascape photographs visit: Rachael Talibart website
You can also follow Rachael on social media: