Wednesday, December 31
Anyway, as it’s the end of the year, I’ve picked out 10 of my photos from 2008 that I liked...
Thursday, December 18
I’ve been following Slinkachu’s ‘Little People’ blog for a few years now. The London-based artist leaves his tiny characters and props around the city to "fend for themselves". A good idea plus a free blog and – hey presto – he (?) has a book out in time for Christmas. Probably at a Waterstones or Borders near you for a tenner. He also has a new website.
Sunday, December 14
A brief note concerning my previous post! It’s been pointed out to me by several people during the course of my scanty and slapdash ‘research’ that Alum Chine Tropical Gardens in Bournemouth is the likely location for this photo. And that certainly ties in with the original caption.
Geologist Dr Ian West has suggested these Tropical Gardens as the location, noting that “the cross-bedding shows that the cliff is not Chalk, but is probably Branksome Sands. The stone walling is typical Bournemouth Purbeck Stone walling.”
I have visited the gardens within the past year, and they were an obvious candidate due to the plant life. The reason that I ruled the location out was my probably mistaken belief that the cliffs to the top right of the picture were massive and distant, which doesn’t fit in with any view that can be seen from the Alum Chine Gardens today.
Instead, it seems likely that the cliffs in the background are quite close, and now covered in vegetation, so the view is different. What appears as pure white cliffs in the black and white photo is probably orange-tinged sandstone, now hidden. I think these cliffs are either to the north at the ‘back’ of the gardens and have degraded slightly over the years or, more likely, are beyond the gardens and are the ends of the main cliffs that run down to the beach. In other words, Ray-Jones was facing eastwards in the direction of Bournemouth Pier when he took the photo.
Maybe the diagonally running wall that stretches across the photo still exists... The next time I’m in the area I’ll try to find it and get a ‘present day’ shot.
Tuesday, December 2
Hello to all my readers in Holland and Belgium – and looking at my Google Analytics report for this blog, there seems to be quite literally ‘several’ of you. I’m delighted to be featured in the current issue of Digifotopro in an article on straatfotografie by Erik Borst, so please rush out and buy it.
The article includes the photo above, which coincidentally has also just won a prize in The First Post/Photobox competition, so my Photobox account is currently £200 in credit.
Saturday, November 29
"People don’t know where they are anymore ... In the post-industrial age, this is the only form of real exploration left. Anyone can go and see the Ituri pygmy, but how many people have walked all the way from the airport to the city?"
Source: New York Times
Monday, November 24
I wonder if anyone can provide the location of this rather splendid Tony Ray-Jones photo – it’s captioned as “Bournemouth, 1969” in Russell Roberts’ Tony-Ray Jones anthology (2004). I know the area quite well and am struggling to think of anywhere that could reasonably be described as Bournemouth that overlooks these distinctive white cliffs.
It's possible that it was taken in a different part of the country altogether. In Ian Walker’s interesting essay on Tony Ray-Jones’s Tripper Boat picture in Source magazine (issue 40, autumn 2004) he describes how much of Ray-Jones’s work was wrongly captioned after his death:
“painstaking research by Ruth Kitchin at the NMPFT [National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford, UK] has shown that much of the captioning in A Day Off is wildly wrong; of the first fifty pictures in the book, only thirteen are correctly captioned, a success rate that seems almost wilfully low.”
In fact the Tripper Boat picture that Walker examines in detail in Source magazine was incorrectly captioned “Scarborough” in A Day Off – scrutiny of the contacts reveals that the location was Beachy Head, as the unmistakable Eastbourne Pier appears in the sequence.
I don’t own copies of A Day Off (1974) or Richard Ehrlich’s Ray-Jones book (1990) to chart the progress of all the captions (you’ll be relieved to hear), but many have been corrected as we come to Russell Roberts’ Tony-Ray Jones’ anthology in 2004.
Possibly the above photo has slipped through the net. Are these cliffs Beachy Head? The Isle of Wight? Somewhere else? Answers on a postcard...
Thursday, October 30
"I respond to what I find – that is one of the things that I find most exciting about this kind of photography. I never know what I will find when I step out the door. It's like embarking on a journey with no clue as to where it will lead or end."
"For me, photography affirms reality, but does not explain it. Part of its strength lies in its ambiguity, its suggestiveness. I embrace that strength of photography rather than worrying about its weaknesses. If I was predominantly interested in explanation or analysis, or if my goal was to present what people are thinking, I would choose another medium – film or discursive writing. I like to think that sometimes still photography can, through suggestion, get at complicated, inexplicable notions, much the way poetry does. More discursive forms like essays may not deal as well with these more elusive notions."
I've thought for a while that Webb's explorative approach is at the opposite extreme to Martin Parr, who often seems to have an "agenda" or concept, and is looking for pictures to illustrate his world view. I've seen criticisms of some of Webb's assignments that were done in a short timescale, and that surely is the downside to Webb's suck-it-and-see approach when it comes to producing the goods in a short space of time.
Webb seems to have to immerse himself in the subject matter, rely on a little luck, mood, feeling and instinct. And sometimes for a great poet like Webb, that just doesn't happen in a weekend or a week. Whereas Parr is the ultimate pro who has a box of tricks and techniques up his sleeve to fall back on when the going gets tough...
Sunday, October 12
It’s thought to be an escapee from a private collection rather than a wild bird blown off course, but a creature with a wing span of up to 2 m sounds like a pretty impressive beast. The BBC’s Natural History Unit is based nearby, so perhaps it has got its beady eyes on a walk-on part on an upcoming production.
Not that I know much about birds, but generally I know what I like, and that’s the impressive, gaudy showbiz birds. Herons, spoonbills, kingfishers, that sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong, I can watch a flock of sparrows buzzing around for hours – their behaviour is interesting – but I don’t really share the twitcher’s urge to tick relatively mundane birds off the list just for a glimpse. When I see a flock of birdwatchers set up in a car park, because one of those birds in that huge pile of gulls just might be a rare Mediterranean gull – identical to all the other gulls apart from a minor detail of plumage – it leaves me pretty cold.
In the same way, I enjoy seeing the odd steam engine and nicely designed Intercity train, but don’t feel the need to get out the notebook and record the details of every diesel locomotive that passes through the station. Then again, the world needs obsessives, so good luck to them. It’s interesting to note that Martin Parr (him again) has at various times been a birdwatcher and a literal trainspotter, so maybe it’s the same species of obsession that drives on the best documentary and street photographers.
Unfortunately, street photography and trainspotting are both minority activities that fall outside the government-approved-behaviours-for-hard-working-families [list to follow]. Hence photographers, trainspotters and bus-spotter have had a tough time recently trying to pursue their interests in a climate of suspicion and paranoia.
Tuesday, October 7
– Yes, I'd like to try out this camera please. [mucks around with camera for a few minutes]
– Hmmm, the focus seems to be a bit slower than I expected. Hard to know if it's just the low light inside this shop. Not worth going outside though, it's even grimmer out there. And raining.
– Yes, no way you could do any photography today.
– Oh, I don't know, have you seen Martin Parr's Bad Weather Series? [clearly this customer is the sort of fruitcake who talks to strangers on train]
– I think so. Was it on Sky?
– No, I meant a series of photographs. I think it was a book. Martin Parr used an underwater camera and flash to photograph people in the rain and snow.
– And what was the point of that?
– Erm, well, you know, documenting people going about their daily business in all conditions, not just photographing in good weather when everyone else is photographing.
– It seems like a lot of effort just to make a point.
– Maybe, but he's become quite a wealthy man doing stuff like that.
– Ah well, if he's rich, maybe he can afford to waste his time doing that sort of thing.
Friday, September 19
reveals an unexpected link between Bacon and the photographer Lartigue:
"... Bacon's resort to photography, both still and cinematic, was constant, obsessive and over-the-top. Its sources and results have an enormous span, from the relatively familiar – Dr Goebbels orating, terrified crowds scattering from the tsar's police, or the bloody face of the nurse on Eisenstein's Odessa Steps, peering hysterically through her broken spectacles – to the utterly obscure. There are bits of Picture Post and images from those resources of gay porn, the body-culture magazines of the 50s. Sometimes the obscure details lie within images themselves famous. For instance, there is a well-known photograph of a racing-car at Le Mans, in which the speed of the machine and the panning camera movement turn the wheels into forward-leaning ellipses, distorted cartoonwise. So striking is this effect and so dominant the machine's image that few people so much as notice the figures in the background, on the verge of the track. But Bacon did, and he stole a pair of them, enlarging them for the right panel of Crucifixion (1965), where, in their odd soft hats, they look threateningly like a pair of Australian yobs leaning on a bar."
The ‘well-known photograph’ of a racing car sounded mightily familiar, and sure enough, a quick Google reveals that Bacon had borrowed the figures from Lartigue's racing car photo for the right panel of his triptych:
Sunday, September 14
It's been a sad summer for English piers with both Weston-super-Mare and Fleetwood Piers being severely damaged by fire. Over the years, Brighton's formally splendid West Pier has slowly deteriorated from an elegantly wasted wreck to a bit of an eyesore. Meanwhile, Brighton's other pier, the Palace Pier, ‘rebranded’ itself as Brighton Pier. Of course, piers are inherently at risk given the large amount of wood on the premises but when closed or struggling piers and seaside funfairs burn down with regularity over the country various rumours surface.
On Thursday I paid a visit to Bournemouth's recently revamped main pier. It proved to be bit of an acquired taste, especially as you're required to stump up 50p for what at first wander seems to be a fairly mundane affair. The cafe at the end of the pier has moved upmarket considerably to become Key West Bar and Restaurant. A hoarding offered an all-day breakfast for £6.95, which I heard one lady point out as ‘a disgrace’. Later on in the warm and pleasant evening the largish restaurant had just two diners, and at least that many staff. An elderly couple peered in and muttered something about just wanting a cup of tea and that it all looked a bit posh (further menu item fact: cappuccino £2.50). I noticed that the cafe glitterball has inevitably disappeared in the makeover, although the ornate ceiling remains!
There are advantages to the low-key approach though. Much as I like the noisy Brighton Pier with Kylie blaring out of the sound system, you can forget that you're out at sea and the whole experience could be any old funfair, especially at night. Whereas on Bournemouth Pier there's no music, no slot machines, and in the near silence the noise of the waves takes over. And after dark, the underfloor lighting creates an eerie light show of changing colours.
Tuesday, September 9
Justin Sainsbury's book "Front - Chance encounters by the seaside" is now available from Blurb:
Blurb's 15-page preview only takes you as far as the first picture due to the lengthy introduction, etc, but the pictures can be previewed here:
The book was laid out by professional designer, Mark Ogden (web site), and was originally printed locally as a short-run book. Hence a lot time and effort has gone into the production, rather than being a hit-and-run Blurb template job.
I have arranged an amazing 0% discount on the Blurb price. If you buy a copy, don't forget to leave a comment here and maybe Justin will buy me a Cornetto.
Monday, September 1
I turned round with the vague thought of getting a picture of them, when that instant a man steps up with a camera and off-board flash, crouches a little and zaps them from close up – just like Gilden.
They seemed completely unfazed by the experience.
I took the photo below a few seconds afterwards. The elderly American tourists are not featured - I thought they'd been photographed enough for one day.
Tuesday, August 26
Wednesday, August 20
Experts? Bucks Fizz? Cliff Richards? Maybe it is a joke.
"Singer Pete Doherty has been blocked from performing at a music festival amid fears his band would "gee up" the crowd into a dangerous frenzy.
The decision came after police asked an intelligence officer to research Doherty's band, Babyshambles, who were booked to headline Moonfest festival in Westbury, Wiltshire, next week. They concluded that the band's tendency to "speed up and then slow down the music" could create a "whirlpool effect" and spark disorder.
But Superintendent Paul Williams said the ban was designed to preserve public safety. "Experts are telling us that the profile of fans that follow Pete Doherty and Babyshambles is volatile and they can easily be whipped up into a frenzy, whereas the profile of someone that would follow around Cliff Richard or Bucks Fizz, for example, is completely different."
Monday, July 21
"As Schofield's Second Law of Computing asserts, data doesn't really exist unless you have two copies of it. Preferably more. And the only person who can be held responsible for that is you."
Wading through hard drives, deliberating, deleting, backing up.
Does it ever end? Probably not.
Wednesday, June 25
and it’s hard to imagine how Nessum Dorma could be bettered in this respect – it seems possible that Puccini had the 1990 World Cup in Italy in mind when he wrote the tune. There have been flirtations with New Order and the like, but since Pav sang, it’s been mainly classical…
The footage that’s inextricable linked to the event from the England point of view is of a tearful Paul Gascoigne, aka Gazza, one of the most naturally talented, but troubled, footballers that England has ever produced. (I don’t think I’ve ever read a piece about Amy Winehouse that managed to avoid using the word “troubled” – the subs must be tearing their hair out, maybe it’s time to invent another word…)
Fast forward eight years, and England boss Glenn Hoddle is pondering his selection for the France 1998 World Cup. Gazza is not fully fit and has earned a reputation for leading an unhealthy lifestyle. Meanwhile Hoddle is making some very non-committal remarks regarding the player. It’s worth bearing in mind that Martin Amis (the novelist, not the photographer) has suggested that all England managers go mad in the end, and there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of evidence to disprove that theory. Although Hoddle may have had a natural head start in the fruitcake stakes.
Just a few days before the squad is due to meet up, Gazza goes for a night out with his friends, DJs Danny Baker and Chris Evans, both known to enjoy a few drinks. The evening ends in the usual culinary conclusion – a visit to the kebab shop.
Student James Eisen spotted them and quickly aimed his camera: 'Gazza had a bag of chips and another bag. I asked Chris if I could take his picture and he nodded. I asked Gazza and he sort of mumbled so I took the shot. One of Gazza's mates grabbed the camera and it went flying. It ended up under a car but I was able to retrieve it.
The picture of Gazza looking slightly shell-shocked and adrift with kebab in Soho made the front page. I have a very clear memory of seeing the picture. Although the party protested that Gazza was in bed by midnight, and Evans even claimed that the chicken kebab, being low in fat, was the natural food of athletes, it didn’t look good. The kebab – the ultimate symbol of end of night revelry and general pissed-up-ness.
I wonder what happened to James Eisen? A quick Google reveals a mention that a James Eisen has quite recently worked for the News of the World newspaper. It’s hard to know exactly what effect that one photograph had on Hoddle, but it’s fair to say it didn’t help Gascoigne’s case.
Gascoigne never made the World Cup squad, and never played for England again.
Thursday, June 12
Fans of Maciej Dakowicz's Cardiff at Night series might be interested in a video of him in action on youtube
it's a bit rough around the edges, but it shows the general ribald chaos and some examples of Maciej shooting.
The video was shot by Joni Karanka, who also shoots Cardiff at night.
Tuesday, June 3
"In conjunction with the exhibition Street & Studio: A History of Urban Photography, Tate Modern is inviting you to contribute your own urban portraits to be on show in the gallery, and have the chance to be part of the Street or Studio alternative exhibition catalogue."
Details on the Tate site
The Flickr group
Monday, June 2
May. Funny old month. What did I get up to?
I popped into the Photographers Lounge in Swanage, which has an interest in street photography demonstrated by the Magnum and Cartier-Bresson books dotted around, and droned on about all my favourite current photographers.
I visited Brownsea Island, which was fabulous, but yielded few photos. Maybe when there are more visitors...
There was also an hour or so shooting at a dog show followed by some cheesy chips from West Bay Burger, probably the most consistent purveyor of quality French fry style chips that I have encountered. The West Bay fast food hut is topped with a copy of a Toulouse Lautrec painting executed by the French owner's son. It's an all-round class joint with free access to a wide range of splurgy sauces – no stupid sachets here.
I visited Bournemouth at least once, and realised I was pretty flipping bored of Bournemouth. That's it. Roll on June.
Oh, and after the "moderate" success of my March madness photographic print sale, I'll be offering a couple of prints throughout June at very reasonable prices. Details shortly.
Monday, May 5
Friday 18 April 2008 to Friday 27 June 2008
Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm
Saturday 12pm to 4pm
(Closed Bank Holiday weekend, 24/25 May)
The Newsroom, Archive and Visitor Centre
60 Farringdon Road
London EC1R 3GA
Thursday, May 1
Location: Leake Street, London, SE1 7NN (near Waterloo Station)
This is an open event but well known confirmed artists include Blek, Faile, Eine and someone called Banksy.
Monday, April 21
Sunday, April 20
Of course, all the detailed technical data and review can be found at dpreview.com, which, in short says it's a good camera but the jpegs are soft (ignore dpreview's comment about the lack of a hard button for ISO on the Conclusions page – that has been addressed by firmware updates). But how does the K10D perform in the field?
My impressions are based on a couple of afternoons wandering around Bournemouth and a showery Saturday in London, where the camera's weather seals meant that I could just tuck the camera under my arm without worrying about it blowing up.
First off, the only digital SLR that I've used extensively is the 4-year-old Nikon D70, so I was surprised to find that the K10D's autofocus (described as "accurate and fast " by dpreview) is noticeable slower in both good and poor light than my antique Nikon. In practice, having shot several hundred street-style photos with the Pentax, I can't say I came away cursing that I had missed a single shot due to the autofocus performance, so in practice it's fast enough. It's possible that if you were doing really up-close, in-your-face shots it would struggle, but I tend to switch to manual focus for that sort of shot anyway...
Another minus point for the K10D is that the shutter is pretty noisy – pressing the shutter unleashes a loud clack that is much louder than my olde worlde Nikon D70. In London, it was nothing to worry about, but there were a few occasions in quieter locations where the potentially huge thwack of the mirror made me think twice about taking a shot...
On a more positive note, the build quality is excellent. Holding the camera, it immediately feels like it means business, with a nice grip and tactile rubberised surfaces, with the solid weight and feel of metal beneath.
The controls are also excellent; the camera has front and back dials and a large top-panel LCD which can be illuminated by pressing the exposure compensation button. In response to initial criticism that the K10D was missing a hard button for ISO, a firmware update means that the 'OK' button can be used to change ISO by holding the button and turning the front dial. Alternatively, in aperture priority and shutter priority mode, the front and back dials can be set to control different parameters, including ISO, without a button press. As someone who routinely uses aperture priority mode and then changes aperture, ISO and exposure compensation frequently, the ability to change aperture and ISO using just the front and back dials, with the occasional change of exposure compensation using a button at the back while turning a dial is the perfect combination of controls.
An unexpected plus point is that the 18–55mm kit lens is quite compact. Personally, I have a big problem using bulky lenses, so the smallish length and width (filter size just 52mm) of el cheapo kit lens is very welcome. An even smaller 18–35mm lens would be ideal, Pentax. I had intended to buy the tiny 21mm pancake prime but as the kit lens is pretty usable, I'll bide my time until I come across a second-hand one.
As for image quality, when I hooked up the camera to the computer, I was pleased with the results. The colours look very natural, almost film-like.
Excellent build quality and controls
Large and bright viewfinder
Dust and weather seals
Small kit lens
Price – around £400 including kit lens
Loud shutter noise
Autofocus just off the pace, although rarely a problem
Unpredictable exposure in bright, high contrast conditions
Saturday, April 19
17 April 2008 to 7 June 2008
Michael Hoppen Gallery
3 Jubilee Place
London SW3 3TD
Tuesday-Friday: 12 noon to 6 pm
Saturday: 10.30 am to 4 pm
(Closed Sunday and Monday)
Sunday, March 9
If you're in the area, there's a Bill Owens exhibition entitled "Suburbia Revisited" at Arnolfini in Bristol. The show runs through his work from the well known and influential "Suburbia" book shot in California in the 1970s, to subsequent black and white studies of political protests, through to a small representation of his more recent colour pictures.
I paid an all-too-brief visit – the Suburbia prints are fascinating and well presented, although the later black and white work seemed to be printed a smidgen on the small side to be fully engaging.
As well as a new book to accompany the exhibition, the "Suburbia" book is still widely available (for example via the UK Amazon site).
About the venue
If you've never been to Arnolfini, it's a very pleasant exhibition space and cinema in the centre of Bristol. It also has a good bookshop (where I picked up the little £5 Banksy books before he hit the big time). And entrance is free.
Arnolfini was recently refurbished, which resulted in a vast improvement of the exhibition spaces but ruined, in my humble opinion, the all-important cafe bar! Arnolfini was established in 1961 by Jeremy and Annabel Rees, and Jeremy Rees' biography makes for more than interesting reading:
In a nutshell
Exhibition runs until 30 March 2008.
Arnolfini is open seven days a week in March (NB. Arnolfini will be closed Mondays starting from April).
Entrance is free.
Galleries and box office are open 10am–6pm daily.
The bookshop is open 10am–8 pm daily.
Arnolfini is located on Narrow Quay, between the harbourside and Prince Street, about 15 minutes' walk from Bristol Temple Meads railway station.
Monday, March 3
As an experiment, and in the spirit of Jen Bekman's 20 × 200, I'm offering prints of these two photos throughout the month of March at a fraction of the usual price. Namely £12 each (instead of the usual £80) for 15 by 10 inch prints plus postage and packing at the normal rate (UK £5, Rest of Europe £7, Rest of World £10). The 15 by 10 inch prints are printed on lustre Fuji Crystal Archive photographic paper from a local pro lab that I use regularly.
The Punch and Judy photo has featured in my three solo shows and the egg and chips one is quite nice. What's the catch? Well, none apart from the fact that it will be 'print on demand' to keep the costs down, and so I'll get the prints made in two batches – at the middle and end of March, so expect to wait up to 3 weeks for delivery. The prints will not be offered at this price again, of course.
email me for full details, why don't you.
For normal print sales, details are here.
Sunday, March 2
Pricing prints is a tricky business. The first time I had a print exhibited was about 5 years ago in a Royal Photographic Society (RPS) show. I had no idea how much to charge and asked several photographers who had exhibited, as well as the RPS themselves. The consensus seemed to be that £100 was the minimum price point for exhibited material. I think I priced my smallish print (above) at around £140, and I waited for the orders to roll in as the exhibition toured the country. Unfortunately, the response was disappointing... It was interesting to look at the exhibition price list where the prices ranged from around £40 (one of the Silver medal winners was one of the cheapest prints) to the mid-thousands.
As I started to get more queries about print prices via my web site, I was caught in two minds. Namely trying to make some money from the hundreds or thousands of hours of "work" that I'd spent making pictures versus the fact that many enquiries seemed to be from students or fellow photographers, with not a huge amount of cash to throw around. I didn't feel entirely comfortable selling things for prices that I, as a photography enthusiast, couldn't afford.
In the end (and incidentally this is before the estimable Jen Bekman started up http://www.20x200.com/), I slowly came to the conclusion that the ideal solution was to offer small prints for low prices while offering larger prints at prices that I couldn't afford, but possibly other people could...
In addition, as an experiment along the lines of 20×200, I'm offering prints of two photos at very low prices throughout March to see how many (any?) sell. Details to follow tomorrow.
Wednesday, February 27
Anyway, after much inconvenient costume changing in bushes, etc. I shot maybe a dozen pictures of various dresses with my trusty Pentax ME super. After the first shot, the camera wind-on mechanism seemed strangely effortless compared to usual but as I just knew that I had a 36 exposure film in my camera and plenty of shots left, I didn’t think much of it.
Imagine my surprise (etc.) when I got the film developed to find that it was a much shorter roll of film. For the park session, I had immediately tore through the spocket holes and had been shooting fresh air for the whole of the afternoon. Not a single shot.
Oh well, at least we’re still friends - happy birthday Janice!
Monday, February 25
A few years ago, I hopped onto the train to Southampton, intending to take some photos of the busy city centre and have a general mooch around. After several hours of wandering, I started to become puzzled. I had seen shopping centre after centre, chain store after chain store, but where was the, erm, interesting stuff?
Southampton has some pleasant parks, and some interesting historical remnants around the fringes but the city centre is a pretty depressing place. Not even run down – in fact it’s all very modern and clean and prosperous. But so linear and dull and homogeneous for such a large city. Not even a quirky/trendy/irritating quarter like, say, Hockley in Nottingham, Park Street in Bristol or the whole North Laine area of Brighton.
No, Southampton has a city centre where the shopping centre and the identikit chain store is king. I swear I wandered into one shopping centre and emerged from a completely different one. Either I had found a secret passage in the consumer–space continuum or the repetition of shop fronts had induced a mild state of hypnosis.
Anyway, after a couple of hours I spied a non-chain bookshop in a road off the pedestrianized main drag. And it had just closed. For good. Oh well...
Friday, February 22
Tuesday, February 5
Problem is, I had my last phone since 2001, and in those six odd years, I didn't manage to memorise the number.
How can I memorise this new, exciting number:
Friday, January 25
Justin Sainsbury (Justin) recently asked me to contribute an Introduction to his self-published book of seaside documentary photography.
Rather than go the usual Blurb/Photobox route, Justin used a professional designer to create the layout, and has had the book printed locally in Sussex.
Typically, I left it to the last minute to produce the text, reproduced below. For an old cynic like myself it’s a bit embarrassingly “jumpers for goalposts” nostalgic, but between you and me, this reflects my genuine enthusiasm for the seaside.
Contained within these pages is Justin Sainsbury’s photographic account of life in the seaside resorts of the English south coast.
The photos in this selection are the fruits of many hours of wandering – putting imaginary frame after imaginary frame around the world until something seems to fall into place. And then the photographer raises the camera, the camera clicks, and with skill and a little luck a good picture is the reward.
The photos here capture the simple pleasures of the seaside, deftly and realistically, without resorting to either sentimentality or cruelty. The seaside has proved to be a popular hunting ground for documentary photographers, with a wide range of outcomes. Martin Parr’s take on the resorts shown here would doubtless render them gaudy, litter strewn, run down and depressing. Other photographers (possibly myself included) might play up the idyllic nature of a gentler, nostalgic, imagined age.
It’s a delicate balance, but the spirit of Justin’s photographs reminds me of comments made about the English photographer Tony Ray-Jones, who photographed the English with enthusiasm in the 1960s
" " " " "
[His] pictures have that rare blend of humour and sadness which is born of both compassion and irony. This is something that springs from the depths of character and it is something that cannot be copied or faked. The imitation... is a blend of sentiment and sarcasm, and is totally alien to his work and to his nature
" " " " "
Ainslie Ellis, Introduction to A Day Off
Justin, born in Brighton, and a long-time inhabitant of both there and Worthing, gives us an insider’s view – the unvarnished truth. Or as near as possible as it is to display truth through the medium of photography. As well as kindly looking pensioners, there are teenagers in hoodies, art-school students, rebellious dogs, and a cast of familiar and eccentric locals carrying out their daily routines. This is a straight-ahead, honest, unpretentious version of the English seafront.
Despite regular pieces in the style magazines about how the seaside is trendy again (possibly by writers who haven’t actually visited the particular resort – I would like the see the Vogue magazine staffers braving a boisterous Friday night in Littlehampton), there are many seaside towns that are hanging on by the skins of their teeth. And a few that are doing pretty nicely. All aspects are displayed here – half-dressed fun vs the disappointment of bad weather, the Chuckle Brothers vs the local Philharmonic...
As a serial inhabitant of seaside towns myself, I enjoy the expectancy on faces and in voices when the train or coach arrives down from London – peering out of the window for a glimpse of the sea. When I visited Worthing recently in the height of summer, I was surprised to find the seafront sparsely populated, and many of the seafronts in Justin’s photos don’t seem that lively either. In bad weather the tourist’s day can resemble an endurance test to be conquered with anoraks, packed lunches and flasks of tea. More so than elsewhere, the weather can make or break the seaside experience. At seaside resorts, there are often limited opportunities for indoor leisure, and so the weather is all important. Unlike, say, London, which just looks and feels a bit nicer in good weather, Worthing can seem idyllic in fair weather, but if you chance upon it on a bad day, it can seem deathly grim. And if the fireworks are cancelled, it’s no fun at all...
Meeting up with Justin, I come to realise that he plays down the more extreme artistic pretensions of this sort of street photography, likening it more to a sport. At 6 foot 7, he was much in demand on the basketball court and it’s easy to imagine the successful shots here being like a basketball slam dunk. Street photographers rely on a variety of methods to take photos without alarming their subjects – speed and attempts at ‘invisibility’ usually are key. Given his height, Justin decided that invisibility was not a viable option, and instead he goes about his business of documenting the seafront quite openly – taking candid shots but ready to engage his subjects in conversation when spotted. His natural empathy, interest and respect for his subjects doubtless comes in handy...
Tony Ray-Jones famously said that ‘I have tried to show the sadness and humour in a gentle madness that prevails in people’, and this gentle – and some not so gentle – madness seems particularly apparent at the beach, where a sub-zero midnight swim seems like a good idea after some refreshment, and a romantic walk to the end of the pier will inevitably lead to a kiss. Justin’s photos remind us of all the natural fun and numerous tiny disappointments, again without resorting to sentimentality or cruelty.
The whole seaside experience is here, briefly in black and white, and latterly in colour. The two casts of characters – the die-hard locals and the day-trippers – a black and white café whose patron is contemplating the day ahead, looks that could kill, and the couple enjoying a tender moment on Littlehampton seafront.
Enjoy the experience!