The Liminal Landscape

The artist, writer and film director Derek Jarman spent much of his later life on the shingle of Dungeness at his home Prospect Cottage. Jarman had purchased Prospect Cottage impulsively with an inheritance received from his father and used it as a second home and as a source of escape from his central London studio.

With declining health, Jarman engaged with the landscape of Dungeness and returned to his first loves of gardening and nature. Jarman described his experiences of nature and the landscape surrounding his home in his diary. Published as Modern Nature, Jarman’s diary is a poetic record of his life between 1989 and 1990, and recounts the wilderness of Dungeness and his time spent at Prospect Cottage in reflective detail. 

Sunday 1st of January 1989

Prospect Cottage, it's timbers black with pitch, stands on the shingle at Dungeness.Built eighty years ago at the sea’s edge – one stormy night many years ago  waves roared up to the front door threatening to swallow it..... Now the sea has retreated leaving bands of shingle. You can see these clearly from the air; they fan out from the lighthouse at the tip of the Ness like contours on a map.

Prospect faces the rising sun across a road sparkling silver with sea mist. One small clump of dark green broom breaks through the flat ochre shingle. Beyond, at  the sea’s edge, are silhouetted a jumble of huts and fishing boats, and a brick kutch, long abandoned which has sunk like a pillbox at a crazy angle; in it, many  years ago, the fishermen’s nets were boiled in amber preservative.

There are no walls or fences. My garden’s boundaries are the horizon. In this desolate landscape the silence is only broken by the wind, and the gulls squabbling  round the fishermen bringing in the afternoon catch. 

Derek Jarman, 1989

My own time spent in Dungeness in the summer of 2020 was inspired by the literary descriptions of Derek Jarman and a desire to engage and explore what he had found so mesmerising. My aim was to photograph the spaces he so vividly described and to create my own visual response to the landscape, as he had when writing his diary. I recorded my own written responses to the landscape in my diary as I too immersed myself in this wild place. 


Jarman, D. (2018) Modern Nature: The Journals of Derek Jarman, 1989 - 1990, London:Vintage. 

Using Format