Shooting Birnbeck Pier on Monochrome Film [Ilford XP2 Super 400]

birnbeck pier

Images shot on Ilford XP2 Super 400 in the Lomo LC-A

Since returning to the UK from my time living in Shanghai, I’ve found myself attracted more to the British seaside towns than I have the inland cities when it comes to going somewhere to shoot some film and write blog posts about it.

In fact, I’ve been to enough that just now, as I write this, I’ve created a new navigation tag so you can see them all in one place. It’s a collection that will continue to grow too as I visit more.

Most of them will be bright and sunny – in both the photographs and the writing. But this short one, which is all about Birnbeck Pier in Weston-super-Mare, isn’t going to be.

Not in the images, at least. Because they’re monochrome ones of a crumbling, derelict structure and it’s hard to make that look jolly. But hey… it’s nice to mix things up from time to time.

birnbeck pier

What and where is Birnbeck Pier?

Birnbeck Pier is one of two piers in Weston-super-Mare – a town that sits on the Bristol Channel in the south west of England.

Designed by a man called Eugenius Birch – which is a fantastic given name by the way – and first opened in 1867, it packed a lot of history into its 127-year run with numerous additions and modifications taking place over its lifetime.

A multi-tasker, Birnbeck served as a boarding point for steamboats, a launching point for the lifeboat, and even as a secret weapons development site during the Second World War.

Once peace returned, it reverted to its former life as a tourist attraction, but competition from Weston’s Grand Pier meant it was never able to regain its former glory.

Despite this, it soldiered on. However, storm damage in 1990 proved to be one of the final nails in its coffin, and it was eventually closed to the public in 1994.

The RNLI had continued to use Birnbeck Pier though, up until 2014 when it became too unstable even for them. This decision was vindicated in 2015 when a section of the north landing pier actually collapsed, as you can see in the image below.

Unsurprisingly, in that same year, it was named as one of the country’s top 10 endangered buildings.

As a side note to that, Great Yarmouth’s Winter Gardens that I wrote about here were added to 2017’s version of that list too.

birnbeck pier

Birnbeck is the only pier in the UK that connects an island – Birnbeck Island – to the mainland.

As you can see in my photographs here, when the tide is low, you could potentially walk over to the rocky outcrop anyway. I say potentially because it’s undoubtedly not going to be a safe endeavour with regards to the sea coming in and swamping you or leaving you stranded.

Suffice to say, I absolutely recommend that you don’t try to do it.

Efforts have long been underway to restore Birnbeck Pier and, rather serendipitously, just one day before I finally got around to writing up this post, it was announced that a government grant of £3,550,000 has been pledged to help with this.

If and when it ever gets reopened, I’ll be visiting again for sure.

For now though, I’ll dump a few more of my images of the pier here, as well as an interesting video I found overlaying old photographs of it onto modern day drone footage.

birnbeck pier sign

That time The Beatles went to Birnbeck Pier and I didn’t know

Although walking across the causeway to the island is very much not recommended at low tide, there are some large rocks at the bottom of the steps that lead down from the road that were safe enough to check out.

As someone who owns a website where I write about photographs I’ve taken of places I go to, I will admit my research prior to going somewhere isn’t always the most thorough.

In fact, before writing this very post, I knew almost nothing about Birnbeck Pier. It was a very cool structure to observe and shoot, but my knowledge of it whilst I was there was… well, it’s derelict and still very impressive.

So it’s genuinely just today that I discover that arguably the most famous band ever once sat on the very same rock that we stood on and photographed the pier from.

image from The Weston Mercury
image by me 🙂

There’s a commemorative plaque there too, embedded in the wall overlooking the pier. I completely missed that also.

It’s a complete coincidence that I took a picture of my friend on that rock, but I guess it’s one of those places where people who have actually done some reading will go to deliberately do the same.

You can be confident I’m telling the truth here about not knowing because we’d have probably tried some self-timer shots of us aping those Beatles poses if we had.

So maybe it’s a good thing we didn’t.

A few final shots and a note on this film and camera

I haven’t really mentioned this yet, aside from the little note I put under the first image on all of my film photography essay posts, but these images were shot on the wonderful Ilford XP2 Super 400 in the brilliant little Lomo LC-A.

When I first shot this film back in my Shanghai days, I was pretty happy with the results it gave me. I did find the contrast to be a touch middling at the time but, for sharpness and cleanliness with minimal grain, it was very good indeed.

Having now shot this roll of it here in Weston-super-Mare, I think I’m more a fan of its contrast than I was when I wrote this review of it. Of course there are variables, like the light you shoot in, as well as the development and scanning of the film.

Maybe my taste has changed somewhat too. Whatever the reason, I like the contrast as well as the sharpness and cleanliness in these final non-pier shots, as I have in all of the ones that came above too.

And in the final one below especially, I’m happy with how I managed to get the focus nicely on that ladder. Because the Lomo LC-A’s zone focus system ain’t always the easiest to judge – particularly when you open up the aperture too.

I’ve missed plenty of attempts at that since I bought it.

Finally actually wrapping up from Birnbeck Pier

So what lessons have we learnt here?

Perhaps the main one is to read up on a place before you go to it. Or even just give it a quick Google, at least. I’m not really one for idolising famous people but if I’d known the history of that rock, it would have enhanced my experience in the moment that I was standing on it too.

Another thing is, not really a lesson but a good reminder, to split your roll of film up into segments sometimes. I shot the rest of this one elsewhere, but to get a cohesive set of 12 images on it from Birnbeck was certainly nice too.

And finally, don’t be like these guys that I stumbled upon whilst researching for this post. Stealing historical artefacts like the clock face from Birnbeck Pier is an awful thing to do.

It’s no surprise they ended up doing time.

If you enjoyed that little post on shooting Birnbeck Pier with some Ilford XP2 400 and want to read some more film photography essays, why not have a look at some of these ones:

And if you think others will find this post worth a read, help them find it by giving it a share 😀

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