A significant exhibition of newly discovered images by social documentary photographer Shirley Baker is set to open at the Grundy on Saturday 20 May. The exhibition takes us ‘on the beach’ at Blackpool and on the Côte d’Azur.

I must admit, when I read the initial description of this exhibition I was instantly intrigued. This was in part due to my interest as a fellow photographer but more importantly as a photographer who has recently completed a road trip around the seaside towns of Great Britain, recording images out of season and comparing them to the hundreds of Blackpool images I already have.

The exhibition titled ‘On the Beach’ takes a look at holidaymakers from Blackpool, one of the most popular and historic English resorts, and juxtaposes these with images from the affluent, sun-drenched, continental Mediterranean resort of the Côte d’Azur. 

Baker’s photographic studies go beyond the simplicity of one country being hotter than the other. The two collections of observational photographs, taken five years apart in the 1970’s, reflect upon the two different seaside settings and explore the cultural backdrop and contrasting behaviours of holidaymakers.

The ease by which the French holidaymaker parades, ‘strips off’, relaxes, fools around, kisses and caresses, and seriously basks in pleasure, contrasts sharply with their British counterparts. In Blackpool, in this period there is a certain restraint in the subjects. The holidaymakers actually shy away from the sunshine, seemingly afraid of what it might do to them. 

Alan Cavill, Blackpool Council’s Director with responsibility for Arts, said: “I am sure that these fascinating photographs will be enjoyed by both Blackpool residents and visitors to the town. The quality of the exhibition is testimony to the Grundy’s growing national and international profile as a leading contemporary art gallery in the North West.”

‘Shirley Baker: On the Beach’ runs concurrently with the exhibition ‘Shirley Baker: Women and Children; and Loitering Men’ at Manchester Art Gallery (19 May – 28 August 2017). This selection of Baker’s work captures the spirit of communities living in Manchester and Salford during the years of urban clearance, from early 1960 to 1980.

‘On the Beach’ runs Saturday 20 May to 19 August 2017 at the Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool. The exhibition preview is Saturday 20 May from 2.30-5pm. For more information visit grundyartgallery.com

Featured image © Shirley Baker estate.

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