Grundy Art Gallery gives resort retrospective in Mass Photography – Blackpool Through the Camera

By Culture24 Reporter | 27 July 2011
A photo of two young men making dancing moves on a purple coloured street
© Maciej Dakowicz
Exhibition: Mass Photography – Blackpool Through the Camera, Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, August 6 – November 5 2011

“I realised I was seeing Blackpool for the first time,” said the late Alfred Gregory, reflecting on his return to the famous old resort from a sojourn photographing an Everest expedition in 1952.

“I had never before looked on the holiday side of the town with an eye to recording what actually made it so famous. That afternoon the Golden Mile and packed Central Beach were certainly as foreign to me when seen through the lens as the distant, remote corners of Africa or the Himalaya.

“I had been photographing in hot steamy valleys amid wondrous vegetation of tree ferns, giant lobelias and groundsel. The shock of suddenly finding myself in Blackpool at the height of the holiday season was tremendous.

“What I was looking at was just as sensational, if not actually more so, than what I searched for across the world.”

From Lagos to Lancashire, some of the most respected photographers in history have turned their lens on the shimmer of Blackpool. Most day-trippers take a camera, too, so this exhibition sees German artist Nina Könnemann try to work out what makes their shots differ from the thousands preceding them.

For the traditionalists, there are picture postcards from crowded promenades during the late 19th century. Then there are the surreal efforts of Humphrey Spender and Julian Trevelyan, the pair who headed to the seaside as part of the Mass Observation group in 1937, returning with exotic images where dolls were larger than people and advertisements took on poetic magnitude.

The gambling machines, crammed beaches, flickering hotel signs and bawdy undercurrents are omnipresent. But the varied portrayals afforded to them, from smartphone glances to Martin Parr’s serrated eye for the obscure, illustrate the breadth of interpretations history has provided.

Könnemann has also made a new video installation based on material from souvenir VHS cassettes of the Blackpool Illuminations, and images from local archives feature the Pleasure Beach, The Tower and its Circus and the Winter Gardens.

More photos from the exhibition:

A black and white photo of people playing inside a large cylindrical sculpture
Funhouse Pleasure Beach, Blackpool (1934)
A photo of a man gesticulating in front of a ticket office counter
Geoff Buono, Untitled. From the series South Pier Box Office© Geoff Buono
A black and white photo of a family in an urban street setting
Homer Sykes, Working Class Mum Mother Children Blackpool 1970s©
A black and white photo of a bygone advertisement
Photograph by Humphrey Spender (1937-1938)© Bolton Council
A black and white photo of people on a seaside holiday in the mid 20th century
Alfred Gregory, Blackpool Rock© Courtesy the Gregory Archival Trust
A photo of a ballroom full of people bathed in red light
Barry Lewis, Christmas in Blackpool (1989)© Barry Lewis
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