Not just through an evolving relationship with the sea, but through the challenges of securing a reliable supply of drinking water and dealing with sewage and the spread of disease during the rapid growth of the 19th Century. The challenges continue today, as population growth, increased water consumption and a changing climate all put pressure on water resources. As a result, Brighton & Hove is classified as an area of ‘serious water stress’. As there are no rivers within Brighton & Hove, the city is entirely reliant on the chalk aquifer that sits beneath it and the Downs for its drinking water. This store of fresh water must be carefully managed and protected to provide a clean and reliable supply. As a coastal city, it must defend itself from the sea and be prepared for more frequent extreme weather events and rising sea levels, while maintaining and improving seawater quality and protecting vulnerable marine life and habitats. The recent designation of a Marine Conservation Zone west of Brighton Marina and the award of UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status to the area are positive steps.
The One Planet Living principle of sustainable water sets high standards to aspire to. Some standards can be met by education and simple changes in behaviour, while others can only be achieved through new technologies and long-term investment in infrastructure.Building on the work of forward-thinking people in the past and with innovative thinking for the future, the city is striving to create a more sustainable relationship with water, in all its forms.
This photo essay is generously sponsored by Standard8.
Thomas Ball (b.1979, Saudi Arabia) is a documentary photographer from Ireland. He graduated with a first class degree in Natural Sciences from Trinity College Dublin in 2002. He went on to work in the environmental industry and aerial surveying in Australia and Ireland. In 2007 he undertook an MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at The London College of Communication and was awarded a distinction. Since then he has lived in London and worked freelance in the UK and abroad on self-initiated documentary projects and editorial or commercial assignments.
Thomas’ photography has been published extensively, including: GEO, The Guardian, GQ, Wired, National Geographic, Independent on Sunday, The Irish Times, The New Review, Libération, Cicero Magazine, New Internationalist, Les Temps, Foto8, Hotshoe, Creative Review, and The British Journal of Photography. His work has been exhibited widely, most notably at The Whitechapel Gallery (London), Somerset House (London), Flash Forward Festival (Canada & US), Les Rencontres d’Arles (France), The Royal Photographic Society’s International Print Exhibition (UK), The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies (USA), Association of Photographer’s Gallery (London), The Hereford Photo Festival (UK), Crane Kalman Gallery (Brighton), and The Royal West of England Academy (Bristol). His first short film Electrosensitive: Outliers in a Wireless World was screened at the Reframe Documentary Film Festival in Canada in January 2014. Thomas was nominated for the Prix Pictet Photography Prize in 2010 and was a Magenta Foundation Flash Forward Winner in 2011 & 2013.
As Brighton & Hove’s seafront is so well known, I have tried to focus my attention away from the more traditional views of the city. With my background in environmental science, I was eager to learn more about the region’s geology and the influence the chalk landscape has had on the city. I also wanted to look into the city’s history and to see what impact past events have had on Brighton and Hove’s relationship with water. My intention has been to form a narrative between history, landscapes, people and infrastructure and highlight some of the ways local residents, businesses and the Council are conserving, protecting and recycling water today.
Like much of my previous documentary work, I shot the majority of this series on a large format 5x4” sheet film camera. The clunky nature of the camera and expense of the film place limitations on the way I can work. Although this can be frustrating, I find these limitations help me to focus on the people, places and topics that I am most interested in and new opportunities and ideas arise as a result.
I have learned a lot about water in Brighton & Hove and the South Downs while working on this series. I have also been reminded about how disconnected many of us are from where our natural resources come from and where our waste ends up. In the case of water, it is important that we constantly remind ourselves what a vital resource it is and that we can’t just take it for granted.
If you look away from the sea you will notice Brighton and Hove rising upwards onto the Downs. The city sits upon a massive chalk block that holds a vital store of water which generations of people have abstracted for drinking. If you travel north from the promenade you can see the tower of the British Engineerium - originally called the Goldstone Pumping Station - which was built in 1866 to pump water out of the ground to supply the expanding town. It is just a small part of what is now a large and complex network of boreholes and pipelines that provide the city with its water today.
Standing on the promenade you can watch and listen to the sea crashing and rolling onto the city’s popular beaches. It’s easy to take the shingle for granted, but it plays a vital role in protecting the coastline from the erosive forces of wave and tidal action. The line of sleepy groynes play their role too in slowing down the movement of the shingle and keeping the beaches in place. The winter storms of 2013/2014 saw these defences tested and the city must be prepared for the possibility of more extreme weather in the future. Out to sea, the water quality benefits from the network of sewers under the city that take wastewater to the new treatment works at Peacehaven. This helps protect bathing beaches, marine life and habitats and sustains a healthy fishing industry.
Our everyday lives are linked in to the cycle of water from when it falls as rain to when it becomes our sea and evaporates into the sky to form clouds once more. So take a moment to think about the water that supports us as you watch raindrops run down your window, as you walk over the land or as you dip your toes in the sea.
How to get there:
Closest train station: Brighton
Closest buses: 1, 1A, 2, 5, 5A, 5B, 6, 20, 21, 21B, 25, 46,49, 60, 700
Cycle: On National and Regional Cycle Network, Route 2
Car: street parking nearby
Wheelchair accessible: yes
One Planet City: Professional Commissions 2014 - 2015
Ten photo essays responding to the ten sustainability principles of One Planet Living with ten site-specific installations in public spaces across Brighton & Hove.