Seaside: Photographed

Seaside: Photographed at Turner Contemporary

Seaside: Photographed, a major exhibition examining the relationship between photographers and the British seaside is on at Turner Contemporary now.

The exhibition includes images from the 1850s up until the present day.

They vary from early photographic depictions of waves, picture postcards revelling in the glee and grime of British resorts and intimate shots of holidays to reportage and the photo series of eminent photographers.

Presenting the seaside in a multitude of different visions, Seaside: Photographed celebrates our special relationship with our coast.

It is curated by Val Williams and Karen Shepherdson.

“The British seaside has always been a metaphor for the state of the nation,” said Williams and Shepherdson.

“Decline and regeneration have become seaside descriptors.

“The coastal population is a complex one – new sets of urban colonisers repurposing seaside buildings and spaces, visitors, émigrés, retirees, all living alongside longstanding citizens.”

A Victorian portrait part of Seaside: Photographed
Seaside Portraits, c1850-1920. Courtesy of SEAS Photography, Private Collection

A glorious failure

Since photography’s early beginnings the phenomenon of the seaside as public parade has provided myriad photo opportunities.

These images chart a tide of enormous social change.

Vicissitudes of fortune have seen Utopian visions give way to the glorious failure of the English seaside.

Playgrounds by the sea appear places of last resort, decaying and ripe for misdemeanour. Or, so much photographic evidence would insist.

However, Williams and Shepherdson point out: “Photographers’ visions are necessarily partial ones – they follow their noses, sniff out the strange and the unusual, the comic and the melancholy.

“They do not necessarily picture things the way that they are.”

Dafydd Jones sporting a Butlins uniform as seen in Seaside: Photographed
Dafydd Jones, Butlins uniform, Butlins, Minehead, 1979

Personal and social histories

Images of hotel life, the beach, holiday camps, dressing up and dressing down, wild waves and coastlines all combine to create a rich and constantly changing picture in Seaside: Photographed.

The curators have included unknown works from across photography’s history as well as images by celebrated photographers.

These include Jane Bown, Henri Cartier Bresson, Vanley Burke, Anna Fox, Susan Hiller, Martin Parr and Ingrid Pollard.

Personal and social histories are captured by the sea.

The exhibits include Raymond Lawson’s remarkable chronicles of family life in Whitstable (1959), Enzo Ragazzini’s images of the anarchy of the 1970 Isle of Wight festival and Stuart Griffiths’ bleak documentation of the 1990 rave scene in Brighton.

Grace Robertson records the raucous goings-on of a woman’s day out to the coast in the 1950s.

Daniel Meadows, Barry Lewis and Dafydd Jones all photographed at Butlins in the 1970s.

A more intimate narrative is revealed in the photographs preserving the seaside haven created by composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears, partners in music and in life.

In response to Seaside: Photographed, artists Bethan Peters and Stacie Lee Bennett-Worth were commissioned to create a new artwork inspired by local residents.

This spring they delivered workshops to families in collaboration with Thanet Early Years Project exploring the seaside through play, movement and digital media.

Work based on the ideas generated will be available for the public to see in Summer 2019.

A baby peeks out of a pram, featured in Seaside: Photographed
Gareth, Brynowen Holiday Camp, Borth, 1986. Copyright © 1986 Colin Thomas

Seaside: Photographed

Seaside: Photographed is on at Turner Contemporary until Sunday, September 8.

It is Turner Contemporary’s first photographic exhibition.

In 2020 it will tour to three other UK venues, each with their own unique connection to the seaside.

They are: John Hansard Gallery, Grundy Art Gallery, and Newlyn Art Gallery and the Exchange. With support from Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Fund.

A book to accompany the exhibition, Seaside: Photographed, is available via Turner Contemporary’s online shop, published by Thames & Hudson.

Main image: New Brighton, England, from The Last Resort, 1983–85 © Martin Parr

A couple walk away from an amusement arcade on Hayling Island.
Anna Fox, Hayling Island 1986 © Anna Fox, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London

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