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Book of the Week: Selected by Blake Andrews

Book Review The Shipping Forecast Photographs by Mark Power Reviewed by Blake Andrews “Living in America, I made it well into middle age with no knowledge of the shipping forecast. In fact, it was only a few weeks ago that I heard the term for the first time. That would not be the case if I’d grown up on the other side of the pond, where the shipping report is something of a national pastime in Great Britain..."

The Shipping Forecast by Mark Power.
The Shipping Forecast
Photographs by Mark Power
GOST Books, 2023. 240 pp., 163 duotone images, 9¾x12¼".

Living in America, I made it well into middle age with no knowledge of the shipping forecast. In fact, it was only a few weeks ago that I heard the term for the first time. That would not be the case if I’d grown up on the other side of the pond, where the shipping report is something of a national pastime in Great Britain. The current forecast of expected marine conditions is broadcast four times daily on BBC Radio 4, attracting listeners nationwide who tune in with rabid devotion. Most have no intention of ever setting out to sea, but they listen anyway. As described by photographer Mark Power, “the enigmatic language of the forecast has entered the public consciousness, creating a landscape of the imagination and confirming romantic notions of Britain's island status.”

Like many Brits, Power has tuned in to the shipping forecast since childhood. For sailors near the Isle of Wight the forecast can be a life-or-death hotline. For landlubbers like Power it performs a less existential role. Nevertheless, the ritual cadence has seeped into his consciousness. Northwesterly 5 or 6 occasionally 7 at first Showers Moderate or good…Southeasterly backing northeasterly 4 or 5 Occasional rain or drizzle Moderate with fog patches…Southwesterly 6 to gale 8 decreasing 5 or 6 Mainly fair good. He might hear such figures in his sleep.

FASTNET. Monday 10 April 1995. Southwesterly 3 or 4. Fair. Moderate or good. By Mark Power.

These reports came and went for decades, washing over Power’s ears every day. It wasn’t until 1990 that a chance encounter with a gift shop towel made him consider their geographic roots. The towel showed a map of all 31 shipping zones. It was a lightbulb moment for Power. He was in his early thirties and embarking on a fledgling photo career at the time. On that day a new project was born. Over the next four years, mostly on holidays and weekends away from his regular teaching job, Power visited and photographed in each of the 31 sea zones which make up the shipping forecast. These cover a wide geographic range, circling England and stretching across the eastern Atlantic from Iceland to Sweden to Spain.

In 1996, he published his findings in his debut monograph The Shipping Forecast. The book included 63 square-format monochrome photographs, at least one from each zone. A handy map at the beginning helped to locate each zone by name, and the pictures were simply captioned with zone name, time, and shipping forecast for the moment of exposure. e.g. Malin, Monday 6 September 1993 Southeast backing easterly 4 or 5, including 6 in south. Mainly fair. Moderate or good.

HUMBER. Saturday 13 July 1996. Southwesterly veering northwesterly 4 or 5. Occasional drizzle. Moderate with fog patches. By Mark Power.
MALIN. Monday 6 September 1993. Southeast backing easterly 4 or 5, increasing 6 in south. Mainly fair. Moderate or good. By Mark Power.

In theory, captions like these described their adjoining photographs, or at least their atmospheric conditions. But the substance of the photographs ranged far beyond weather events, encompassing a variety of subjects, locations and vantage points. Some verged on street photography, while others leaned closer to social landscape or lyric documentary. Many eschewed people entirely, hewing to natural landscapes. Ranging from beaches to ferries to parking lots, Power combined locations and styles as easily as atmospheric conditions. His omnivorous eye and flexibility were defining strengths of the book. All were cleverly unified by the lingua franca of sailors. He described the images as “a poetic response to the esoteric language of daily maritime weather reports.” The odd and insular rhythm of forecasts operated like finely wrought words, entrancing him in much the same mysterious way as good photos. “The most successful pictures,” he writes, “were a kind of visual metaphor for the confusion of the words.”

FAIR ISLE. Sunday 28 January 1996. Southeasterly 4 or 5, occasionally 6 in southwest at first. Mainly fair. Good. By Mark Power.

The Shipping Forecast
hit England like a tsunami, with waves reverberating for years. The monograph sold through three printings of several thousand copies each — many to non-photographers — and eventually helped earn Power entrance to Magnum. It became something of a cross-cultural phenomenon, savored by ship captains and shepherds as well as armchair shutterbugs.

But alas, that was more than a quarter century ago. The first editions have long been out of print and hard to find, at least until now. This past winter, GOST Books published a new edition, much expanded form the original. It is bigger, thicker and, at least for the time being, readily available. The old full-bleed cover image of a split-sea photo has been replaced with pale blue wrapping, and roughly 100 new photographs have been added to the monograph’s original 63, all resequenced to emphasize formal serendipities across the spread. In fact, there are so many new images presented in new combinations that, in some ways, this is a new book entirely. Fans of the old Shipping Forecast needn’t fret. All the old favorites are still here. But they’ve found new company.

TYNE. Tuesday 27 July 1993. South 3 veering southwesterly 4 or 5. Occasional rain. Moderate occasionally poor. By Mark Power.

The Shipping Forecast
was a career milestone for Power back in 1996, and, looking back, it serves as a timepiece. It capped many years of dogged work with monochrome film and was published shortly before Power switched to color in 1999-ish, more or less for good. The book collects square format photos, most of them shot with a wide-angle lens from close range. All of these traits make it an outlier compared to Power’s later work, generally shot from distance in color, with rectangular aspect. Like looking through a cherished family album, it must have been fun for Power to revisit the old warhorse before plotting its many revisions. Unlike, say, weather conditions, photography monographs remain static over time. They can provide a safe harbor for photographers caught up in the turmoil of rapidly shifting events, technologies, and curations. But when the weather clears again, it’s time to venture out. These are my thoughts, veering northwesterly, moderate or good.

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Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at

Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated that Mark Power lives in the Isle of Wight. Power resides in Brighton, which is located on the South Coast of England and is adjacent to the Isle of Wight.