Blackpool through the camera
A new photography exhibition opens this week in Blackpool, looking at the seaside town’s unique history and marking 100 years of the Grundy Art Gallery. Chris Sharratt flicks through the photo album and likes what he sees.
Most of us have got a take on Blackpool. It’s the kind of place that creates memories that stick, good and bad and often surreal.
There’s plenty to point a camera at in this town, and appropriately enough a perfectly-timed new exhibition opens in Blackpool this week, full of photography that evokes the history and mixed fortunes of the place.
Perfecty timed not just because it’s the holiday season, when we all get to see the best and worst of what Blackpool can offer. But also because it marks 100 years since the opening of the town’s Grundy Art Gallery, a sea of white-walled calm amidst the mid-summer maelstrom of the Tower, the Pleasure Beach and those sad-looking donkeys tramping up and down the beach.
“Look at these four young lads throwing shapes and posing for the camera – archetypal British boys on holiday.”
The Grundy was commissioned by Blackpool Council in 1908, following a bequest from brothers John and Cuthbert Grundy. (Cuthbert was described at the time as: ‘A leader of the artistic, literary and scientific life of the town’). The gallery has a reputation for thoughtful contemporary art exhibitions; Mass Photography – Blackpool Through The Camera is curated by an artist rather than a social historian.
Intriguingly for a town so associated with a particularly northern English sensibility, the artist in question is Berlin-based Nina Könnemann. She’ll also be presenting a new video piece comprised of footage from souvenir videos of the Blackpool Illuminations.
The show features work by big hitters such as Peter Marlow, Tony Ray-Jones, Chris Steele-Perkins, Humphrey Spender, and Martin Parr. And there’s photos from the town’s own archives that are making a public appearance for the first time.
Just look at Homer Sykes’ black and white picture from the 1970s. A mother smoking a cigarette, babe in arms and another on the way, two older children in tow. The Tower looms behind, the B&B sign in the window reminds us these aren’t locals, and what are the girls wearing? Fancy dress I guess – it’s that kind of town!
Or what about these jokers in Maciej Dakowicz’s recent record of a Saturday night in town? Four young lads throwing shapes and posing for the camera – archetypal British boys on holiday. It looks like a hot summer’s night and there may be drink or drugs involved – it’s that kind of town too.
As we all take more and more photos and shout ‘Look at me!’ ever more loudly, the art of photography finds itself in an interesting, challenged place. What is it that raises a picture above the mundane, that enables it to tell complex stories in a single frame?
The images in this exhibition may go some way towards providing an answer as they take us on a ride from monochrome to full-colour digital. Meanwhile, this curiously resilient seaside town will continue to provide new opportunities for good and bad photographers alike.
Mass Photography: Blackpool Through the Camera, Aug 6-Nov 5, grundyartgallery.com
Images: Maciej Dakowicz, A Saturday night out in Blackpool, 2010; Homer Sykes, Working-class mother and children, 1970s; Lisa Schools, Saturday Night Blackpool; Humphrey Spender, 1937-38; Andrew Bartholomew, North Pier, 1989; Tim Brown, Blackpool Tram, 1990.