“Warmth, excess, fun and surreal humour.”
An illustrious photography career found him shooting for Vogue, but for Barry Lewis Blackpool proved a continuous draw.
Year after year he returned with his camera and the resulting body of work – brought together bursting with colour and life – bristles with a familiar friction between wholesome family daytime fun and an eccentric and hedonistic nightlife. In a series of two articles, he tells Claire Walmsley Griffiths why the town became a place to store his best memories.
I still love the seaside – those earliest memories are still released by the smells of sand, sea, and candyfloss when I first get to a seafront now – and I have never lost that magical moment of the first glimpse of the sea. Blackpool seemed so far away in the north that it became an exotic chimera, when I saw it on TV – miles of sandy beaches with donkey rides, not one but three piers, a huge fun-fair, a mile-long promenade full of fortune-tellers, pubs, fish-and-chip shops, plus of course the famous illuminations along the promenade.
I was brought up in London and our family holiday trips to the south coast are some of my earliest memories. My mum, sister and I would squeeze into the sidecar of my dad’s old motorbike and head for exotic towns such of Margate, Broadstairs or Folkstone where a week’s holiday would seem like a lifetime. We stayed in boarding houses with similar families, made intense friendships and lived on the memories through the following winter!
These images stayed with me and when I became a photographer, like so many before me, I headed north and have been photographing the insanity of this party town, both in summer and winter, for over 35 years.
Back then my Blackpool days would start well before breakfast, at low tide, when the miles of sandy beach bathed in a soft early morning light are a world apart. The early risers would gradually appear like marks on an empty canvas. It was a time of silence – for some it was a chance for a quiet read or stroll while for others it was a chance to watch the circus horses being exercised. Then came the bait diggers and detectorists, hunting for worms, lost change and pirate treasure and as the day unfolded a squadron of ice cream caravans would arrive to service the approaching families… dipping their toes in the sea, setting up their camps before digging sandcastles and burying Granny! The day seemed to stretch on forever, as did the warmth and light. Individual memories are eclipsed by a kaleidoscope of action and colour – instant friends and sunburned bodies, cold beer and sandy sandwiches. I now use the images I took as the key to releasing fragments from a dream.
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