Prosaic Persistence: the enduring material potency in photographic seaside ephemera

      (An illustrated paper presented at Photomedia 2016, Helsinki, 30 March - 1 April 2016)

This illustrated paper drew from the UK’s South East Archive of Seaside Photography to (re)examine how commercial seaside photography has not only endured, but reveals an unexpected emotional potency.

Commercially taken seaside photography was established around the UK’s coastline by the middle of the 19th century and by the mid 20th century was being produced on an industrial scale. Yet despite mass production and the connotation of such photography as little more than disposable seaside ephemera, these images in the form of ambrotypes, ferrotypes and later postcards have endured.

We know that thousands of these photographs were taken and yet most of these images are now found only within the domestic family album. If photographs were not sold at the time of taking, they would routinely be discarded or pulped by the photographer, with no archive or record kept. This paper will reveal how to counter this lack of record and in an attempt to uncover and document these privately held pictures, the South East Archive of Seaside Photography organised numerous community collection days. Here members of the public brought to the Archive their own commercially taken seaside photographs. At these events high-res scans were taken, where possible names attributed and any additional narrative information also attached.

Three years ago and new to the role, as archive director I rapidly had to learn to accept each donation, each encounter with sensitivity, respect and time. To accept that community collection days would be slow-paced day and to understand that each image donor told the picture’s narrative not as history – but as memory. Maurice Halbwach’s persuasive thesis is salient here, drawing as it does a distinction between that of history and memory.  At the Archive we have become very aware that for image-donors their contributions are not considered by them as ‘history’ – they’re neither a formal nor a written account mediated through the academic or official lens. These modest material objects are potent visual connective tissue linking the donor to their (re)membered past. The connective tissue between their reality of now and their (re)membered experience of then. Using the medium of these commercially taken seaside photographs we at the Archive seek to capture that connective tissue between photo-donor and their knowledge, their understanding of this (re)membered past. It is inevitably a selective and reconstructive process where distortion does take place, whereby through (re)membering a past rather than The Past and a truth rather than The Truth is produced. A past and truth made all the more binding through the act of telling at the community collection event.

In undertaking this work, the Archive not only catalogues the donation, but also documents and notes how these images provoke memory and behaviours in the donors. This proposed paper will reveal how donors repeatedly hold the photograph with a pronounced tenderness and/or stroke the picture as if a relic. We witness how such prosaic photography has material potency – a material potency which arguably supersedes the photographer’s original intention.

Reimagining Place & Space: The Seaside as a Site of Community Repair

(An illustrated paper presented at the Institute for Public Policy & Professional Practice: Arts, Health and Wellbeing Symposium, Tate Liverpool, 27 November 2015)

Abstract: This illustrated presentation considered how CCCU's Centre for Research on Communities and Cultures has been utilising the seaside to gather together various communities living along the Isle of Thanet's south east coastline. These curated gatherings seek to offer voice to those who often and understandably feel placed at the margins. Through public events and exhibitions the Centre for Research' seeks to enable the sharing of narrative histories and experiences to take place within a site of play (the seaside and the water's edge). Through the case study of 'Seabathers: Reflections and Responses' new understandings can be established, misperceptions repaired and the space of Thanet reimagined.


(An illustrated paper presented at the Fast Forward: Women in Photography Conference, Tate Modern, London,  6-7 November 2015)

The full presentation can be viewed as a video here: Tate / Fast Forward

This illustrated paper provided insight into the practice of commercial seaside photography, offering a visual exposition of the British seaside as represented through the refracted lens of the female beach photographer. The research upon which this paper was based provides new insights into an overlooked form of demotic photography and the role women played in this commercial practice, thereby opening up rich seams of imagery and revealing new perspectives on photographic working methods. 

This paper examined commercial seaside photographic practice, offering an exposition of the British seaside photographer as she evolved from the itinerant individual to resident employee within an organised structure. The role of seaside photographer had in its early history been couched in derogatory terms such as ‘Smudger’ or ‘Bodger’ and generally and regardless of gender regarded as an inept and relentless seaside pest. Seaside photography companies such as Sunbeam on the Isle of Thanet and Barkers of Great Yarmouth provide examples of large commercial photographic companies located at the coast, which from the 1920s strategically sought to counter the negative connotations surrounding the seaside photographer. One way in which they sought to revise public perception was through the employment of articulate, attractive and proficient women photographers – projecting an overt professionalism cloaked in femininity and informality.

The history, politics and aesthetics of commercial seaside photography remains a largely overlooked form of commercial practice and amplified still further is the lack of examination of women’s location in this practice. Within commercial seaside companies, women were always present, but predominantly marginalised to backroom tasks of quality control, retouching, administration or, in the public sphere, as kiosk attendants. However, a number of women did become seasonal seaside photographers. Case studies, interviews and visual research show how their practice differed from highly standardised means of production and how this differentiation was harnessed by the women in order to achieve commercial success and recognition on their terms. This was despite the motivation for their initial employment arguably being rooted in the employer superficially considering how attractive young women could function as a hook for holidaying clients to purchase cheap commercially taken seaside portraits. Not only were these young women photographers producing photography that equalled their male counterparts in both method and aesthetic the women’s photography as this research reveals, differentiated itself and provided an alternative visual voice.

The paper’s subject, whilst seemingly esoteric and even prosaic, nevertheless importantly illustrates how women have harnessed photography and photographic practices as a mode of not only expression but also as means of physical liberation and economic self-sufficiency.

Hostile waters: the beach photographer as endangered species.

Abstract: This paper as part of the Margate PhotoFest (2015) placed into context the significant cultural role the seaside photographer has had in documenting and refracting back the beach experience. From as early as the late 1850s itinerant seaside photographers were located on the UK beaches and along with early examples, the presentation considered how the experience of the beach photographer evolved through three ages of seaside photography: early, high and contemporary and also what the future might hold for the photographer working the sands in the modern era.

Alternative processes & contemporary commissions at the Old Lookout Gallery.

A joint paper/presentation by K.J.Shepherdson and Rob Ball at the Shadows Symposium: Traditional Photography Techniques in a Digital World, Camberwell School of Art.

The presentation examined how modest spaces can be transformed into significant and potent sites of alternative creative spaces and in doing so facilitate contemporary lens-based commissions. This paper took as its case study the Old Lookout Gallery in Broadstairs and considered how this site-specific place contributes to lens-based practice and provides space - even sanctuary - for traditional or alternative processes. The paper also reflected upon how the Old Lookout' has contributed to our own practices and sense of place and space. 

In addition to the symposium paper, we also had a wonderful seminar gathering 'Rumination on Time and Space' at The Old Lookout Gallery which included research talks by Dr Sam Vale and Michaela French followed by a fish and chip lunch.

Picturing Aftermath - A Visual Response to the Broken Faces of WW1

Abstract: This illustrated artist paper sought to provide insight into contemporary creative practice-based research, exploring themes of human ruin, (re)membering and remembrance. In doing so, the research specifically examined and contextualised the photographic series Aftermath (Shepherdson, 2014) which was commissioned to commemorate the centenary of the First World War’s start. Aftermath in reappropriating the found images of Ernst Friedrich’s 1924 Krieg dem Kriege examined ‘ruination’ relating to the human form, a form all too vulnerable to mechanical warfare. In addition the paper discussed how physical vulnerabilities might be translated forcefully, yet simultaneously tenderly, through images of the damaged human face.

The presentation demonstrated Aftermath’s use of the esoteric photographic technique of emulsion lifting, whereby the photographic emulsion - similar to that of a fine layer of skin - is lifted away, re-echoing the fragility of the face and the utter devastation at its loss. As Sally Minogue comments “The damaged face was one of the most difficult disfigurements for a surviving combatant to bear because of the public response of disgust and rejection, as well as the sufferer’s own deep loss of confidence and sense of identity. In facing Shepherdson’s photographs we take on a responsibility to face up to what modern warfare means” (2014:23).

A characteristic of emulsion lifts are tears and creases which subsequently require slow, gentle teasing and stroking out by hand using soft natural bristle brushes. This act of stroking and easing the face back into shape is of course in sharp distinction to the moment of facial destruction. The specificity of this process also limits scale and thus distils each work into a unique artefact with consequent ‘flaws’ accepted and welcomed. In considering photography’s potential to connote human fragility and ruin, the paper will draw upon the salient writings of Derrida, Sontag and Berger.

Remembrance and (Re)membering: contrasting perspectives on the Sunbeam Photographic Collection

(An illustrated paper presented at Archives 2.0 Conference, at the National Media Museum, Bradford, 25-26 November 2014)

Abstract: Aleida Assman stated that ‘the archive…can be described as a space that is located on the border between forgetting and remembering’ (2008:103). Both are selective processes that forge meaningful terrains and bring order to isolated artefacts. ‘(Re)membering’ is a slightly ironic concept that attempts to encapsulate the archival processes of collection and collation, synthesising disparate parts into a meaningful whole. The Sunbeam Photographic Collection is an example of this - consisting of more than 40,000 commercially taken British seaside photographs from 1917–1976. Their origins are private individuals and uncollated municipal holdings and it is the role ofthe South East Archive of Seaside (SEAS) Photography to construct an ordered collection from such disordered parts. 

The archivist’s meaningful terrain represents a perspective which can be at odds with users and contributors. ‘Remembrance’ refers, in this context, to the emotional meaning that such ‘holiday snap’ images have for the non-archivist, interpreted through the lens of selected memory. For the archivist, such nostalgia gives way to categorical synthesis and academic analysis, in which technical, historical and cultural contexts predominate. Thus, far from a neutral interpretational landscape, this Collection can be regarded as a locus of contrasting and perhaps conflicting perspectives. For some contributors, key Sunbeam' images represent a canon, with overt sanctification. Accordingly, the archivist can be seen as hijacking the demotic, taking the ‘people’s pictures’ and over-intellectualising them. A central problem to be discussed is, therefore, how this nexus of conflicting perspectives is navigated/negotiated, without alienating the very people whose contributions are so vital to the archive’s formation.

Walking to Work...

(An illustrated paper to be presented at the Of the Earth Conference, at Plymouth University, 24-25 October 2014)

Abstract: In examining how walking informs my own work, this illustrated paper will argue for a reappraisal of the parochial and specifically how walking and working close to home can contribute to and inform creative visual practice. Walking to work or – walking to make pictures - was dually provoked by a growing sense of (dis)ease with the amount of time I was spending studio and screen based and also by my home town making the front cover of the Monty Cantsin’s Greetings From Shitsville UK.

By drawing upon earlier writings by John Piper, Benjamin Britten and Stevie Smith, I came to realise I had capitulated far too soon to slack assumptions that my parish was a creative wasteland (or from Cantsin’s perspective - ‘shitsville’) and that by retreating to the studio and screen I could somehow cunningly circumnavigate parochial perils. The parochial too frequently connotes the mundane, the insular, the unaspirational and a concern for the fundamentally ordinary. Such a stance is amplified still further when the local is a prosaic town on an unromantic Isle commonly referred to as Thanitos – Isle of the Dead. 

Initial creative recalibration to the local produced work such as Landscape with Fragmented Forms signify the fractured relationship I was experiencing with place and space as I walked the Isle. But over time, the pedestrian rhythm of daily walks to work brought not only space to think but also a realisation that my once dislocated practice had relocated to be profitably close to home. As Piper would argue, I had shifted from being on to being within the landscape The outcome, as this paper will explore, has been the long-term photographic project The Jettywhich adopts a perspective that is at once subjectively ‘at home’ and yet non-subjectively placed at an observational distance.

Beyond the View - Reframing the Sunbeam Photographic Collection

(An introduction to Ball, R & Shepherdson K.J. (eds), 2014, Beyond the View (New) Perspectives on Seaside PhotographyBurton Press.)

For much of the twentieth century the Subeam Photographic Company represented and reflected British seaside culture. As a photographic company it documented on a vast scale life on the UK’s south east coast and specifically that of the Isle of Thanet. Whilst Sunbeam are perhaps best known for their ‘seaside’ pictures, this was far from their sole genre, diversifying into capturing civic, ceremonial and political events; producing numerous idealised promotional tourist images; landscapes and townscapes; broad commercial work; school photography and even eccentric animal portraiture. As Anthony Lane noted in his detailed exposition on Sunbeam:

Not many activities can be said to capture the life and soul of a town as well as photography. Conversely, not all photographic institutions have a wide enough spectrum of interest to capture all aspects of a metropolis. One commercial company that came as close as any to achieving this aim … was Sunbeam Photo Limited. For fifty years their roving photographers ranged along the promenades, patrolled beaches, penetrated the political conferences and emerged with a wealth of pictures at work and play. (Lane 1999:293)

Sunbeam was indeed the dominant commercial photographic company on the Isle of Thanet and one of the largest in the country. It was founded by John Milton Worssell in 1919 and remained within the family under the directorship of Worssell’s two sons Richard and Jack, until 1976. As early as 1912, Worssell Snr. had gained a modest foreshore concession in Margate and between the Wars, once Sunbeam was established, rapid expansion was in evidence. From 1925 a bespoke laboratory and offices were built in Sweyn Road, Clifftonville, facilitating a factory process of standardisation. Sunbeam also had a studio in the popular Northdown Road, Clifftonville and numerous concession kiosks along the coast.

The company actively sought to differentiate itself from connotations of earlier itinerant coastal photographers and Colin Harding provides an excellent account of this in an essay accompanying this publication. Sunbeam took overt pride in training many smart young men – and later women too – for the summer season, training them not only in the practice of picture making, but also in their approach to and handling of the general public. This informal professionalism led to Sunbeam being regarded as a trusted company, whereby the photographer was perceived not as nuisance or hawker, but rather as a professional, as someone to engage with and trust.

The Company’s paternalistic philosophy is evidenced in Jack Worssell’s letter to an employee:

"…we old-timers can take satisfaction from the knowledge that the firm we served for the greater part of our respective working lives has, during its existence, provided work for a great many local people, and also been responsible for introducing many young people into the photographic industry, providing them with a solid grounding in photography which they found to be most helpful in later years (cited in Lane 1999:328)."

Associated with the topographical and idealised images of the British coast, the roving Sunbeam photographers throughout the summer season would be photographing holidaymakers as they walked along the promenade or sat on the beach. These images, referred to as ‘seaside photographs’ or ‘walkies’; were taken in a period when many families still did not own their own camera and thus the Sunbeam photographers offered a means of recording the family trip to the coast. These are the images that perhaps best typify Sunbeam, signifying the delights of the seaside. Countless such photographs demonstrate the Isle of Thanet in its heyday, where the promenades and beaches were crowded with visitors after making their migration to the coast. Photographed on one day and bought the next, many of these images are now found only within family albums and whilst many hundreds of thousands were taken, few actually exist within the Sunbeam Collection. 

Since 2012 and in an attempt to uncover and document these privately held pictures, the South East Archive of Seaside (SEAS) Photography has organised collection points and community collection days, whereby members of the public have brought to the Archive their own commercially taken seaside photographs. The significance of these modest postcard-sized pictures has been repeatedly made manifest. An elderly couple brought a single Sunbeam image of their child who had died at a young age. Another image donated by a woman was of her mother and father taken long before her own birth – it showed her parents as a loving young couple, with, on the photograph’s back, the fading stamp of a German Prison of War insignia: ‘Stalag XXI’. The image had been sent by her mother to her father via the Red Cross after he had been captured early in WWII. Through the process of community collection it has become apparent that, more than just donors, people have become genuine contributors to and participants in the developing Archive.

In parallel with the ‘seaside photographs’ and ‘walkies’ is the Sunbeam Collection’s large number of parade and carnival images. On examination what becomes evident is how significant is the amount of effort and energy invested in not only float design, but also costume and flamboyant masquerading. Predominantly images of the 1950s and ‘60s, they signify not only a delight in masquerade and parade, but also and at times uncomfortably so, the vastly different social mores of that era. The repeated stereotyping of race, sexuality and women abounds. What would now be regarded as wholly unacceptable and offensive was considered then as playful and harmless. Many of the carnival images reward close scrutiny: faces and gestures frequently undermine a simple reading of pleasure. The children, huddled (and frequently held) with masquerading adults, often look anxious and photographs repeatedly signify Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the carnivalesque – the idea of eccentric behaviours and familiar and free interactions between people being temporarily allowed within the public sphere. The rationale of leisure activities permits the expansion of usual normative boundaries.

The diversity of the Sunbeam Collection not only provides access to the past’s public arena, but also numerous and poignant images within the domestic sphere – drawing attention to the more passive and frequently stark home lives of the mid 20th century. These images represent a site of homemaking, of modest and often restrained celebration and a place where communities could come together to mark events such as the Coronation in 1953, or where children could use the roadside as a place of safe play, uninhibited by the interventions of adults.

It is perhaps easy to regard such collections of commercial photography as ephemeral, yet the images within the archive and this publication are worthy of reappraisal and reimagining. They provide and construct a view of seaside experience – of high days and holidays, seductively drawing us into an often idealised vision of the past. Paradoxically, such images can often be both prosaic and evocative – resonating still with many viewers. Perhaps these are the pictures which particularly signify the very potency of photography, of making the past present again. As articulated by Yves Dorme such pictures show “a second of happiness, captured forever, fixed on film. Which says hello and goodbye, both at the same time” (2007:37)

References and Suggested Reading:

Bakhtin, M. (1984) Rabelais and His World, John Wiley and Sons.

Depardon, R, and Dorme, Y. (2007) Images Cachées, Centre National de l’Audiovisuel.

Godfrey, P. (2013) Snapped at Gorleston on Sea, Suffolk.

Harding, C. ‘Sunny Snaps: Commercial Photography at the Water’s Edge’ in Ball, R. and Shepherdson, K.J. (eds.) (2014) Beyond the View: Reframing the Sunbeam Photographic Collection, Burton Press.

Lane, A. (1999) ‘Thanet Revealed: The Story of Sunbeam Photo Ltd, Part One’, in Bygone Kent, 20: 293-328

Lane, A. (1999) ‘Thanet Revealed: The Story of Sunbeam Photo Ltd, Part Two’, in Bygone Kent, 20: 323-328

Linkman, A. (1993) The Victorians: Photographic Portraits, Tauris Park.

From Smudger to Sunbeamer: Informal professionalism in commercial seaside portraiture

(An illustrated paper presented at Exchanging Photographs, Making Knowledge 1890-1970 Conference, atthe Photographic History Research Centre at De Montfort University, Leicester, 20-21 June 2014)

Abstract: The research upon which this illustrated paper is based seeks to provide insights into a somewhat overlooked form of demotic photography: the seaside ‘walkie’ or commercial seaside photograph. The research specifically examines the Sunbeam Photographic Company located in Margate, UK until the mid-1970s and whose vast collection of glass and celluloid negatives is currently being digitised at the South East Archive of Seaside (SEAS) Photography. The Sunbeam collection is providing a revealing and rich seam of imagery and offers new perspectives on commercial seaside photographic practice and technique. 

This illustrated paper examines the Company’s commercial photographic practice from 1920-1970, offering an exposition of the British seaside photographer as s/he evolves from the itinerant individual to resident employee within an organised structure. The role of seaside photographer had often been couched in derogatory terms such as ‘Smudger’ or ’Bungler’ and generally regarded as an inept and relentless seaside pest. Yet Sunbeam provides an example of a commercial photographic company located at the coast, which strategically countered the negative connotations orbiting the seaside photographer. Sunbeam sought to revise public perception through a variety of methods including the employment of articulate, well-groomed and proficient photographers – both men and women – projecting an overt professionalism cloaked in informality. A system was devised by Sunbeam that was calculated to standardise customer experience and where differentiation of that experience occurred it would be safely located at the margins. For example, through the benign use of elaborate props such as stuffed lions, bears and tigers; large Disney figures; or farcical ersatz elephants, donkeys and dogs. The consequences of this standardisation are arguably images, which facilitate an increased informality by the sitter(s) and whereby the prosaic pictures produced resonate still with the contemporary viewer- signifying the very potency of photography, in making the past present again.

Pulling Out The Plug / Yurt Works

(An illustrated presentation to the HEA on creative sustainability within the curriculum.)

Good Morning and I am so pleased to have been given the opportunity to talk about the work we have undertaken through a Futures Initative Award. The Department of Media, Art and Design at CCCU – and specifically the Photography Programme -  has benefited from F.I. Funding. 

The award has allowed us to purchase a bespoke Yurt or to give it its true name -  a Gur- a tent that has been used subsequently as both mobile darkroom and camera obscura. 

As a mobile darkroom – the yurt provides a dark space, lit by just a little red safety light - in which to produce photographic images 


as a camera obscura – the yurt provides a dark/dark space into the image from outside is brought insid through the use of a lens, the outside reflected within the tent itself – Narnia…

But I am getting a little ahead of myself and I think it would be useful to just spend a couple of minutes on context: 

Firstly, prior to the award being made, the taught Photography Programme, whilst principally teaching using cutting edge digital equipment, nevertheless had a strong curriculum strand which examined traditional – not digital – methods of light and image capture. Importantly as a teaching team we never promoted this as a means of constructing an opposition to contemporary digital practice – never for example connoting one as superior to the other, it wasn’t film vs digital! - rather we sought to reveal through practice, that innovative and creative technologies had been utilised by image-makers long before the arrival of digital screens or electrical power supplies. Indeed the analogue has of course influenced much of our contemporary digital practice and our digital discourse.

But, prior to the yurt, all of this learning took place on and within CCCU’s satalite campus. The Campus is very limiting in terms of being creative environment; it is very technology driven with almost all of our teaching spaces filled with divine macs and this technology is then added to with undergraduates - and of course tutors - arriving with their own macbooks, smartphones and ipads etc. 

It is very difficult to abstract oneself from such a screenbased environment – I would perhaps take this further and say a screenbased culture – and prior to the award we would have to build camera obscuras in teaching spaces – cluttered rooms where, as we attempted to black out – remember the camera obscura has to be a blacked out space -  but -  as we attempted to achieve this, tiny electrical lights would glisten green, blue, amber and red from the pulsating macs or the overhead projectors or the overhead projector’s control pad; or from smoke alarms or the numerous hardrives – and even if we gaffered over all of that, there was still the sounds of the digitsed room – listen (we can hear the electrical / digital ambient sounds) – great when teaching contemporary material – dire when wanting stillness (not silence) but stillness and darkness…

The idea for a yurt as mobile darkroom and camera obscura is a plagiarised one... I was already very familiar with the photographic artist Abe Morrell. Abe has produced work using camera obscuras in beautiful, luxurious hotel rooms in Venice / New York / Sydney… London etc. But he too yearned to leave the constructed and go back to a more basic approach. And here is what he calls his ‘camera tent’ in Florence and this other one is in NY. The tent has a lens right on the top and this brings in the outside – refracted into the tent. And this on the right is what Abe is seeing and then photographing on the floor of the camera obscura.

Notice all the artefacts on the image – he uses the ground where the camera tent is placed as the base for the image-making. So, if the pavement is marked these marks are seen in the final picture. Likewise if he used the tent in a desert the sand would be visible – thus the place and space of image–making is pushed to the fore. 

So, we commissioned a yurt and we initially built our own lens to allow the outside in. This wasn’t as bright as we had hoped and in the following year we were awarded some more funds to buy a bespoke lens for the camera obscura.

Talk through the images… 


This film was produced very early:

So how have we actually used it?

Talk through slides:

As noted in the film, the yurt is used as both camera obscura and darkroom by our Y1 photography undergraduates as part of their curriculum; it is used by our Part II students (Y2 and 3) for individual projects. They can book it out and take it off site to work. And it has been used by the Programme teaching team as a form of KE and community engagement.

This has included working with the highly regarded Turner Contemporary Gallery at Margate – the gallery is located right at the seas shoreand there we have provided a number youth and school workshops and also antique photographic process demonstrations – for example wet plate photography. Such work is only possible with a mobile darkroom, wet plate photography requires processing prior to the photographic plate drying so time is of the essence…

As photography tutors we have the annual joy of seeing numerous students working in the darkroom for the very first time. If you have never experienced this yourself it might be difficult to imagine – but there remains something magical about being in a darkroom – with a little bit of red safety light to help you see where you are going. As a tutor, you see a student slip for the first time a piece of exposedphotographic paper into the development tray and there, in front of their eyes their image begins to appear – at first a hazy suggestion and then as the seconds and minutes tick by, up and up it comes into the recognisable image. The first time this happens students will often gasp or giggle in sheer delight. Any pretence of cool on their part is jettisoned. It’s chemistry – but in those early moments it feels magical. 

The yurt has taken that experience and amplified it. It abstracts the user – be that tutor, student, curious member of the public who happens to be passing by, school group – who ever – but it abstracts them… If demonstrating the camera obscura we first enter into darkness. A total – can’t see the hand in front of your face darkness – the initial response is normally one of noise – whoops of excitement / expletives as someone knocks into or treds onto their near neighbour – a little bit of silliness – and we just wait. Over the chatter we quietly introduce the large disc on which the image will be reflected and ask that all those inside the Yurt take hold – someone inevitably always says ‘it’s like a séance’ and that creates another wave of silly spooky sounds and excited shrieks – but we know these will settle. And then, then there is quiet and we wait – we seldom have to even encourage them to hold this silence – they have moved into a different frame of mind and we stand in the darkness / in the silence and we are stilled. At that point one of us quietly reaches up and opens the lens and the outside is bought in. Regardless of how prosaic the location, the result is always the same – no more excited squeals / no more expletives – but gasps and then quiet almost reverential discussion of what is seen. The world – their world is made strange – they are literally placed within the camera.

That experience has a legacy – after use the students, most of whom of course will elect to work principally digitally, not only have a respect for past technologies, but also an understanding of where much of their own digital practice and terminology is rooted. And for those students utterly seduced by the experience they then have the knowledge and understanding to make use of the yurt and to bend this extraordinary resource to their own creative needs and purposes. For us, this award -  this resource-  fascilitates the presence of the past into contemporary and future practice.

Thank you


Beyond the View: Reframing the Early Commercial Seaside Photograph

(An illustrated paper presented at Oxford University, Coastal Cultures of the Long Nineteenth Century Conference)

Abstract: For the latter part of the 19th and much of the 20th Century, commercial photographers represented and reflected the heritage of British seaside culture. The research upon which this paper is based, seeks to provide insight into an overlooked form of demotic photography, revealing rich seams of imagery and offering fresh perspectives on Victorian coastal representations. 

The paper examines commercial seaside photographic practice from 1860-1920, offering a visual exposition of the British seaside, as represented through the refracted lens of the itinerant ‘beach’ photographer – also often derogatorily referred to as a ‘Smudger’. Despite their humble means of production, the photographs shown are frequently evocative, drawing the viewer into a nostalgic past shaped by visual half-truths. Photographic half-truths that too readily can become amplified from a view to the view and to the experience. 

The research presented here examines the conventions, expectations and mythologisations of what seaside portrait photography of this period should present and how these inevitably provide a highly mediated and edited view of the actual Victorian seaside experience. Here I attempt to reframe and recontextualise these ‘seaside snaps’, providing visual and text-based content that rewards both scrutiny and critical engagement.