Capturing ‘Britain’s Only Desert’ on a Medium Format Film Camera

A split image: On the left, a small rustic beach house with yellow window frames and a gravel yard featuring scattered plants and wooden posts. On the right, a person in a red shirt riding a unicycle near a weathered wooden shed in a similar setting.
Edward Thompson

When thinking of the climate in Britain, it is easy to conjure up images of rain, grey skies, and big red buses going through puddles. Deserts? Not so much.

However, readers may be surprised that one small speck of southern England lays claim to be “Britain’s only desert.”

A close-up of green sea kale growing among brown pebbles on a beach. Several other sea kale plants are scattered in the background, and there are large industrial buildings visible in the distance against a clear blue sky.

An expansive, gravel-strewn landscape with sparse grass patches is shown under a dark, stormy sky. A rusty railroad track runs horizontally in the foreground. In the distance, a white house with additional buildings can be seen against the dramatic backdrop.

A square brick structure featuring six large speakers is positioned in a gravelly field with sparse vegetation. In the background, a black and white lighthouse stands under a clear blue sky, and small buildings are visible on the horizon.

Dungeness, a “lonely, bleak, and desolate bank of shingle” that juts into the English Channel off the Kent Coast not only looks like a desert but also has a huge nuclear power plant looming over it.

It has been a draw for photographers and filmmakers seeking an unusual location to shoot in. Nicky Minaj has made a music video there and Pink Floyd used it on an album cover.

A large industrial facility with multiple interconnected large, grey buildings is in the background. In the foreground, there are several small, simple houses or cottages on sparsely vegetated land. The sky above is clear and blue.
The power station that looms over Dungeness.

A group of people and a black dog sit on the grass, enjoying a picnic on a sunny day. Behind them is a large industrial facility with various buildings and structures. The area is surrounded by greenery and yellow flowering bushes.

A single yellow flower with green leaves grows amidst a barren, rocky landscape under a clear blue sky. The background features a blurred silhouette of a tall structure and a distant horizon.

However, a party-pooping climate scientist refuted that Dungeness is a desert in 2015 owing to it receiving too much rainfall. But that hasn’t stopped medium format film photographer Edward Thompson documenting the remarkable location.

“I’d been working on medium format documentary photo essays for five years before starting this project in 2011,” Thompson, who shot the photos on a Bronica SQ-A, tells PetaPixel.”

“I think it’s a really good idea to pick a single camera and grind with it for a while, and if you do it long enough before you realize it you’ve probably made a significant body of work that can be a great photo book purely because you didn’t chop and change between formats/film types, etc.”

A young child sits on a blanket in a grassy garden holding a plate with food, while an adult with long blonde hair lies nearby, smiling. There is a green shed, wooden fence, and power lines in the background on a sunny day.

A charming black wooden house with bold yellow window frames stands in a gravel garden adorned with sparse greenery and tall, weathered wooden posts. The scene is set against a clear blue sky, giving a rustic, coastal vibe.

An elderly woman, wearing a light blue dress, lounges on a reclining chair outside a rustic wooden cabin. The cabin has a blue window frame and a corrugated roof. Various outdoor items are scattered nearby, and a building complex is visible in the background.

Thompson is planning to release his photos of Dungeness as a book via a crowdfunding campaign but has to raise the funds for 500 hardback copies first.

“It’s all-or-nothing funding, maybe I won’t make it, but that’s cool. In 24 years as a photographer, I’ve had some very public failures!”

Two children sit on grassy terrain near industrial buildings and a large metal electricity pylon. One child wears a red shirt, and the other wears a purple shirt. The sky is clear and blue, and the overall setting appears expansive and industrial.

View through a divided window frame looking out at a landscape with a tall, dark lighthouse on the left and a small building in the distance. A garden structure with a scalloped roof edge is visible in the foreground. The sky is partly cloudy.

A boy in a red shirt and white cap stands next to a unicycle on a concrete slab outside a rustic wooden building. He looks to his left, and the background features a rural, slightly industrial landscape with power pylons and buildings.

Thompson says that he found the people of Dungeness to be “very inviting and accommodating” but recent trips have felt quieter.

“I’m sure a lot has changed. I’ve noticed a difference when I’m out photographing since then, but then maybe that’s my perception of how I used to get received as a baby faced 20 something versus a lumbering 40-year-old dad dork!”

Thompson’s Kickstarter campaign for Welcome to Dungeness can be found here. Head over to his Instagram page and YouTube Channel, Pictures on my Mind, to see more of his work.

Disclaimer: Make sure you do your own research into any crowdfunding project you’re considering backing. While we aim to only share legitimate and trustworthy campaigns, there’s always a real chance that you can lose your money when backing any crowdfunded project.

Image credits: Photographs by Edward Thompson.