By Sonny Levitt 

It was through my mum – a fount of knowledge for all things Hastings – that I first heard of Picnic. So, I cycled over and peered through the window of number 40 Marina. Like many, I wondered what exactly this place was.

It transpired that Picnic is a non-profit community space and photo-book library, providing a friendly place to talk about photography, get inspired and learn from other photographers.  It has an ever-growing collection of books of and about photography, free to flick through. From nature to nudes, from the streets to the runway, there is something here for everyone. All have been donated – by publishers including Steidl, Thames & Hudson and Mack – and from photographers, writers and artists like Simon Roberts, Guy Bolongaro and Chloe Dewe Mathews. My favourite is Josef Koudelka’s Exiles, an absolute classic which includes shots of people all around Europe that are often mysterious and always convey feeling. They were taken during Koudelka’s 21 year exile from his home country, Czechoslovakia, starting in 1970. 

Picnic was founded by three Hastings-based photographers – Nick Ballón, Alma Haser, and Georgina Cook, who have all published photography books themselves. Nick’s personal work focuses mainly on his Bolivian heritage, as shown in Ezekiel 36:36. Alma comes from a background in fine art and uses inventive paper folding techniques to create abstract portraits as shown in her
work Cosmic Surgery. Georgina mainly practises documentary photography, focusing on music and youth culture as in her photo-book Drumz of The South: The Dubstep Years 2004-2007. 

Nick and Alma met Georgina through mutual friends late in 2019 and acquired the lease to at the Marina for personal studio space in the basement. But they wanted a community project for the ground floor and together came up with the idea for Picnic. Their application for Arts Council funding was approved last autumn. Local photographer Joe Charrington and a team of volunteers were also involved in getting the project off the ground. 

Each month Picnic’s windows will become a site for local photographers to show and gain feedback for ongoing work. Titled In Progress, the featured photographer for May is Andreas Bleckmann, whose portraits show the fishermen, families and swimmers that live, work and pass through Rock-A-Nore. 

Also starting in May, Picnic will begin its workshop program in partnership with local organisations such as The Refugee Buddy Project, Xtrax and Eggtooth. With a focus on children and young people, workshops will be facilitated
by guest photographers and artists including Annie Collinge, Clarisse d’Arcimoles, Jason Evans, Maisie Cousins and
Eddie Otchere. Demonstrating eclecticism, Dog PhotoBooth, a pop-up travelling studio by award winning fine-art photographer Alma Haser, will visit on 3 May to capture a distinct portrait of each delightful visiting dog.

Picnic certainly proclaims that photography in St Leonards and Hastings, is alive and well. 

Picnic is at 40 Marina St Leonards, open 11am-5pm, Thursday-Saturday. Instagram @picnic_on_sea 

Email [email protected] for your dog portrait.

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