6/08/2011 — 5/11/2011

Mass Photography

Blackpool through the camera

Tony Ray-Jones, Blackpool, 1963

NMeM/Science & Society Picture Library

Mass Photography: Blackpool through the camera contains over one hundred photographs of the resort from the early 20th century to today.  The exhibition encourages the viewer to make their own way through the Blackpool experience, comparing and juxtaposing the way that different photographers have looked at people having fun but also at the downtime of mass leisure.

Curated by German artist Nina Könnemann, the exhibition combines the work of some of Britain's greatest documentary photographers alongside photographers who have lived or invested much holiday time in the resort, photographers discovered on the internet site Flickr, and material from archives across the northwest of England.

The starting point of the exhibition is the work that Humphrey Spender and Julian Trevelyan produced in 1937/38 as part of the ‘Mass Observation’ project, which was initiated to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain as an “anthropology of ourselves”.  Spender and Trevelyan’s affinity to British surrealism lets them appreciate Blackpool’s efforts towards the exotic in images where dolls appear larger than people and advertisement copy reads as poetry.  Yet their subject matter of gambling machines, the overcrowded beach, signs on hotels and ventriloquists are to be found in the images of many other photographers who have come to Blackpool.  By showing the variations of such recurring subjects, the exhibition traces changing trends in photographic expression.

The interest in exploring one’s everyday surroundings as something worth looking at can be seen in photographs by artists that come from or lived in Blackpool including Geoff Buono, John Burke, Henry Iddon and Lisa Schools.  The late Alfred Gregory who grew up in Blackpool and best-known for photographing the British expedition which made the first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953, explained his inspiration when coming back to Blackpool in the 1960s:  “I realised I was ‘seeing’ Blackpool for the first time (…) and 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.”

The exhibition also includes a new video installation created by Könnemann based on material from yearly updated souvenir films of the Blackpool Illuminations that evoke the special sense of time of the cyclical holiday seasons.  The installation underlines the philosophy of relying on established favourites, while instigating slight innovations; a repeatedly occurring pattern Könnemann sees as successful within the representational image of Blackpool.

The exhibition includes: Andrew Bartholomew, Ian Berry, Robert Brook, Tim Brown, Geoff Buono, John Burke, John Chillingworth, Cyril Critchlow, Maciej Dakowicz, Alfred Gregory, Henry Iddon, Barry Lewis, Haywood Magee, Steve Marland, John McDonald, Mike O'Sullivan, Peter Marlow, Martin Parr, Tony Ray-Jones, Lisa Schools, Humphrey Spender, Chris Steele-Perkins, Ian Stirland, Homer Sykes, Julian Trevelyan, Peter Ward and Vicky Wragg, as well as material from the archives of Blackpool’s Local and Family History Centre, Gazette newspaper, and Pleasure Beach and Tower attractions.

The exhibition is supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England