Blackpool – but not as we know it

Photographer David Nightingale at work on Blackpool promenade.

Photographer David Nightingale at work on Blackpool promenade.

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David Nightingale’s work doesn’t just capture Blackpool, it sings about Blackpool.

As a photographer he’s now globally acclaimed. Yet it all started with an unassuming, yet stunningly beautiful, online photoblog (www.chromasia.com) in 2003 while working as a full-time academic.

He was repeatedly asked ‘How did you get that effect?’ so, Chromasia Training was born four years later – and David found his true calling.

He’s since penned books, and his blog, currently ranked the 16th most influential UK blog, has received numerous nominations and awards, including winner of the Most Popular Photoblog category in the 2008 Photoblog Awards and Best European Photoblog in the 2007 Photoblog Awards.

And the subject of that photoblog primarily remains Blackpool but with a twist. As he divides his time and family life between Blackpool and Bulgaria David knows it better than most.

David’s seaside has an edge of surreality rather than the old sunny ‘wish you were here’ imagery. There are Dali like touches to driftwood standing stark on sands like bare bones.

Skyscapes are steeped with foreboding. The sea turquoise or granite grey or a maelstrom of moody blues.

Souvenir shops look like something from the set of Little Shop of Horrors. Even a passing disability scooter can acquire a sinister air.

The images have became iconic, internationally so. Take David’s pictures of Riverdance, the ferry stranded off the coast at Anchorsholme. It was photographed to the point of parody by many. But no one quite had David’s eye for an offbeat angle ... and when he and wife Libby noted the computer servers seemed a bit slow, they checked on what was clogging the blogosphere, and found their pictures had notched up 30,000 unique visitor hits. In one day.

Now the Nightingales, who flit between Blackpool and Bulgarian homes, their seven children raised in both countries, run tutorials online and in person, one-to-one and in group sessions.

From humble beginnings in Blackpool the Chromasia.com blog has since taken David to locations around the world.

Corporate clients include the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, the Arts Council in England, the Van Volxem winery in Germany, and Sony, UK.

He was in Seattle in October, for CreativeLIVE, a live, online worldwide creative classroom, holding forth to thousands, then on to Dubai and Oman, both regular spots for architectural commissions, group tutorials, photography workshops and post-producton training.

His recent offerings feature the Venice carnival, all masked beauty and voyeuristic mystery one minute, innocents caught offguard the next, capturing the sense of menace in cult 70s film Don’t Look Now.

But the next workshop, headed Dramatic Images, is set in Blackpool in May, and has already sold out, 16 places snatched up in four days. They have another in August and booking fast too.

Libby, no mean photographer herself, but happy to distance herself from techno-talk, hopes to run one for women only.

Nor are places bagged by Brits alone. Brits - and certainly Blackpudlians – are in the minority. Photographers from far further afield are keen to see the real thing - Blackpool in the raw before Photoshop has heightened the sense of sublime or ridiculous or simply made one feature stand out above all else.

Americans are coming over in droves. Europeans too. Libby admits: “They can’t get enough of Blackpool. David travels to location around the world, everywhere, photographs everything, but it’s Blackpool they come back to, what they really want to see, time and again.”

But is what we’re seeing real? Does the camera ever lie? Or is it all down to post-production ploys and Photoshop tweaking?

Libby counters: “It’s as real as photography has ever been. Photoshop has a bad reputation with a lot of people, the purists, or photographers who use it to rescue a bad photograph, under exposed or whatever. But it’s taking photography back to its beginning year ago. Photographers were a profession, not amateur, then. They took photographs, big plates, and then worked on them in the dark room, did amazing stuff, arguably their best stuff there. Then we lost that, gained a middle man, condensed the photography process, and started sending films off to processors.

“Now when we take a photograph we think what we’re going to do with it. We’re seeing the whole process through from start to finish, our dark room is Photoshop. Some may think it’s Blackpool but not as they know it but that’s because they haven’t seen it properly in the first place. You still need that eye for a good photograph. And the ability to know how to make it even better. Pressing the shutter is just the start.”