Seaside: Photographed

Image: Down to the Beach. Photographer: Raymond C Lawson. Courtesy of Nicholas Cordes, with kind permission of the Lawson family

John Hansard Gallery presents Seaside: Photographed, a major exhibition that examines the relationship between photographers, photography and the British seaside from the 1850s to the present.

Curated by Val Williams and Karen Shepherdson, the exhibition includes early photographic depictions of waves, picture postcards revelling in the glee and grime of British resorts, intimate shots of holiday and relaxation, reportage and the photo series of eminent photographers, presenting the seaside in a multitude of different visions and celebrating our special relationship with our coast.

Since photography’s early beginnings the phenomenon of the seaside as public parade has provided myriad photo opportunities, charting 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 becoming places of last resort, rackety with decay and ripe for misdemeanour, or as so much photographic evidence would insist.

Images of hotel life, the beach, the holiday camp, dressing up and dressing down, wild waves, hotel interiors and coastlines all combine to create a rich and constantly changing picture of the British seaside. The curators have included unknown works from across photography’s history as well as images by such celebrated photographers as Jane Bown (1925-2014), Henri Cartier Bresson (1908-2004), Vanley Burke (1951-), Anna Fox (1961-), Susan Hiller (1940-2019), Martin Parr (1952-), and Ingrid Pollard (1953-).

Personal and social histories are captured by camera 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, while Daniel Meadows, Barry Lewis and Dafydd Jones all photographed at Butlins in the 1970s.

Seaside: Photographed tours to two other UK venues, each with their own unique connection to the seaside: Grundy Art Gallery and Newlyn Art Gallery and the Exchange, having first been exhibited at Turner Contemporary Margate in 2019 in their first photographic exhibition.

Seaside: Photographed is supported by Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Fund.

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