Documenting an ever-changing sea view

LENS ON LIFE   Jonathan Eastland.      Picture: Malcolm Wells (111618-3642)
LENS ON LIFE Jonathan Eastland. Picture: Malcolm Wells (111618-3642)
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Jonathan Eastland was only 18 when he went to sea as an apprentice officer in the Merchant Navy. Just a year later he’d been around the world twice.

But by 21 Jonathan had decided that he wasn’t cut out for a life on the ocean wave. Instead he returned to his family in Petersfield and became a professional photographer (his father was a keen amateur who used to develop prints in the bath).

That decision has led to a fascinating life photographing all sorts of ships and the people who sail them.

After a couple of years learning his trade, he had headed for the bright lights of London. It was the Swinging Sixties and he worked for a time as a fashion photographer.

He recalls: ‘A bespoke tailor was aiming to start Carnaby Street-style boutiques in the provinces and asked me if I would do the pictures for his brochure.’

But the fashion world wasn’t for him, so he set up shop in a flat in Portsmouth before finding premises in Kent Road, Southsea for his first picture agency.

Jonathan started to shoot maritime subjects and his 1967 picture of Southsea greengrocer Alec Rose with lucky mascot Algy before their epic round-the-world voyage in the yacht Lively Lady was sent everywhere by Associated Press.

It helped to make Jonathan’s name, although he still dreamed of being in the thick of the action in Vietnam rather than photographing ships.

He says: ‘I wanted to go to Vietnam as a war photographer, but Associated Press said because I had two young children they didn’t want to send me out there. I realised they were right and that they didn’t have expertise in marine photography. So I began supplying marine pictures.’

By the 1980s his agency, Ajax News and Feature Service, had grown and moved to Southampton. His assignments included spending six months taking pictures of the America’s Cup in Australia in 1986.

Today he no longer goes around the globe capturing maritime images. But he’s still very much connected to the sea.

Home for Jonathan and his artist wife Caroline is a converted 63ft wartime Motor Torpedo Boat moored at the Riverside boatyard in Swanwick. He has lived afloat in the same boatyard for 34 years now, starting off with a bigger MTB before selling that and buying one that was in much better condition.

He says: ‘The attraction for me is that when I get up in the morning and look out of a porthole, every day the river changes. I may be in the same geographical location, but the tide may be in or out or there may be different wildlife. You get this sense of liberation that is intangible but underwrites a lot of the way you go about living afloat. You just can’t get that ashore.’ He adds: ‘Somebody once described it as bolthole from the rush of the world and we are very privileged to live here.’ Now Jonathan’s working on a photo book about the River Hamble and the ever-changing scene he can see from his floating home. He explains: ‘The provisional title is The River That Never Sleeps and the aim is to capture life on the river in all its forms.

‘I’ve got a lot of pictures in my archive, but I’m also out doing new stuff nearly every day.’ He’s also putting together a book about the First World War in northern France, which has involved several research trips. But he’s always glad to get back home. Jonathan may be 65 now, but he’s got no intention of retiring. He operates an online photographic stock library called and says: ‘My photography is not a job, it’s a vocation. I’m fairly obsessive about photography and couldn’t imagine not doing it.

‘I suppose there will come the day when time takes its toll and I physically can’t do it any more.

‘But until then I’ll keep on pressing the button.’


One of Jonathan Eastland’s latest projects is a book about HMS Victory, a ship he’s studied for more than 30 years.

He has been given special permission by the Royal Navy to photograph every corner of the ship in Portsmouth’s historic dockyard and his images appear in HMS Victory: First Rate 1765 (Seaforth Publishing, £14.99).

Jonathan worked on the book with Iain Ballantyne, editor of Warships International Fleet Review.

It takes readers on a tour of the whole ship, from bow to stern and keel to masthead.

Now the author of 14 books on maritime and photographic subjects, Jonathan explains: ‘In 2005 I co-authored a biography of all seven ships with the name Victory and had a huge amount of pictures of the presently commissioned Victory in my archives.

‘I thought this latest one would work as a pictorial book and when the publishers saw the breadth of material I had they jumped at it.’

He adds: ‘A lot of the ship has never been seen in this way before. I spent quite a lot of time on board last year doing interior shots. A lot of pictures taken on board Victory look like glossy picture postcards, but that has taken a lot of lighting. In reality it is quite dark and I wanted to preserve that atmosphere.’