“Beach Photography” exhibition brings together the work of eight internationally renowned photographers: Nikolay Bakharev, John Hinde, Boris Mikhailov, Martin Parr, Tony Ray-Jones, Antanas Sutkus and Nick Waplington who have explored the culture of the working-class seaside resort in locations ranging from East Anglia to Eastern Europe.
These are not images of exotic locations. There are no brilliant white sands and Caribbean sunsets, but even without the glamour, a trip to the beach is still an escape. Whether in Bognor Regis or Bulgaria, a common theme in the work of these photographers is the budget resort, where working class people fill their lungs with briny air and escape their troubled lives.
There is something universally uplifting about the determination of the holidaymakers in these shabby, crumbling resorts. The rolled up trousers, the tattoos peeking from under swimsuits, the potato-coloured skin turning lobster red, are the same on Bakharev’s industreal beach in Siberia and Nick Waplington’s Skegness Beach.
Martin Parr’s famous photographs of New Brighton from his Last Resort series, find a hyper-real absurdity in the decrepitude of the working-class British beach resort. His flash photography and saturated colours transform these images into frozen tableaux. Parr’s beach pictures are in many ways the bastard offspring of John Hinde’s pioneering 1970s promotional photographs of Butlins. Sold at the time as postcards, Hinde’s images of the British holiday camp capture a reassuring atmosphere of innocent post-war 1950s fun. They depict the idealised environment to which Parr’s rubbish strewn resorts once aspired. Tony Ray-Jones (1941-72) was also a big influence on Parr. Before his premature death, Jones travelled through Britain in the late 1960s photographing people at work and play.
Two distinct strands run through this exhibition. Four of the artists are British and three are from the former Soviet Union. Among the British artists represented are Martin Parr, John Hinde, Tony Ray-Jones, Nick Waplington.The former USSR is represented by Boris Mikhailov, Nikolay Bakharev, Antanas Sutkus. In Salt Lake, Boris Mikhailov’s 1986 photographs provide a breathtaking throwback to life in the USSR. The photographer went to a small Ukrainian town to capture a panoply of stocky men and bikini-clad women — all bathing on a sea shore crowded with smokestacks and brick warehouses. In this town, a factory spills untreated water directly into the open sea. Believing these waters to have healing powers, the locals enjoy swimming in it. In early 1970s Lithuanian photographer Antanas Sutkus traveled around Bulgarian seaside resorts such as Burgas, taking photographs of the beach at the time of the local beauty contest. The exhibition will feature a portrait of “Miss Burgas 1972”. Breaking into the later part of the twentieth century, Nikolay Bakharev presents a striking set of portraits from summer tourists in Siberia. Gaunt, brazen and chilling, his Relationship Series portrays parents, children, couples and families all trying to wile away the long summer days.