Showers then rain. Mainly fair. Moderate with fog patches. These are the clipped, dulcet remarks of The Shipping Forecast, a BBC Radio 4 broadcast of weather reports for the seas surrounding the British Isles. The Met Office produces these reports for each of the 31 weather areas dividing the coastal waters, which are issued four times daily at 2300, 0500, 1100 and 1700. It was Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy (1805-1865), who founded the weather service in 1854, whose system of barometer reports, nautical charts and pattern records became the earliest accounts of meteorological forecasting. In April 1861, The Times published the first public report, with the broadcast arriving on radio 60 years later in 1921.
Over a century later, The Shipping Forecast remains a British national institution, reminiscent of a bygone era and tethering those on land to those out at sea. Brighton-based photographer Mark Power (b. 1959) has been entranced since childhood, imagining beautiful, daunting landscapes of blustering winds, endless rainfall and churning waves. In 1993, Power began a three-year campaign to visually represent its strange, melodic statements. His pictures, inscribed with the day’s 0600hrs report, were first printed in 1996. Three decades later, the series returns in The Shipping Forecast, containing over 100 previously unpublished photographs. It is a visual metaphor for, Power states, “the unexplainable and mysterious, echoing the strange and esoteric words of the forecast… Its strange, rhythmic language is unashamedly romantic and oddly reassuring, despite forming an image of an island nation perpetually buffeted by wind and waves.”
This juxtaposition – of destruction and reassurance, danger and comfort – is aptly captured in Power’s monochromatic images, which cast sombre yet intimate glances across coastal landscapes. A couple embrace whilst perched on a jagged rock overlooking a cliff in Fastnet Sunday 9 April 1999, for example. In Thames Sunday 7 January 1996, steel-coloured clouds appear moments from engulfing a hooded black silhouette. Throughout, the images rock between nostalgia and eerieness: boats lie abandoned in low tides; children pose beneath a Dover rollercoaster; and storms gather above beaches indented with retreating footprints. This approach is reminiscent of Chris Killip (1946-2020), who, in the 1980s, made stark documentary pictures capturing the impact of the economy on ordinary lives.
Whilst the broadcast remains part of Radio 4’s programme schedule, recent BBC cuts threaten the loss of the long wave signal in the coming years. Power’s images are reminders of the institution and its connection to millions of British listeners. “To fully understand my intentions, you have to understand the Forecast itself,” Power says in an interview with Aldebaran, “and to have grown up, like I did, listening to the radio broadcast all your life.” These images will foster a special connection with viewers that did – and continue to – engage with this singular mesmeric voice.
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Words: Megan Jones
1. Cromarty, Wednesday 18 August 1993. Variable 3 or less, becoming southwesterly 3 or 4, occasionally 5. Occasional rain later. Mainly good © Mark Power / Magnum Photos
2. Thames, Sunday 7 January 1996. Southeasterly veering southwesterly 5 or 7. Rain then showers. Moderate or poor becoming good © Mark Power / Magnum Photos
3. Fastnet, Sunday, 9 April 1995. Variable, becoming mainly southerly 3 or 4. Fair. Moderate or good
© Mark Power / Magnum Photos
4. Wight, Saturday 18 February 1995. Northwesterly backing southwesterly 6 or 7, increasing gale 8 for a time. Showers then rain. Good becoming moderate or poor. © Mark Power / Magnum Photos