Please join Anna Douglas, curator of ‘Shirley Baker: On the Beach’ for a special curator’s talk and gallery tour on the eve of the exhibition’s opening at Photofusion.
On the Beach juxtaposes two bodies of work from the 1970s, taken five years apart by Shirley Baker. Though appearing to reflect upon two seaside settings— Blackpool, a popular northern English resort; and the affluent Côte d’Azur, bordering the sun-drenched Mediterranean—Baker’s photographs additionally explore an altogether different kind of backdrop, that of our cultural imagination with regard to ‘the body’ and its potential for pleasure.
This bodily imagination is more than a matter of one country being hotter than the other, in which heat-caressed French holiday-makers ‘strip off’. And, perhaps, we make too much of our conservative Protestantism, in which guilt takes precedence over pleasurable sensuality. Nevertheless, a cultural difference in action is what Baker notices.
The ease by which the French holidaymaker parades, relaxes, fools around, kisses and caresses, and seriously basks in sensual pleasures, contrasts sharply with her British counterparts. In Blackpool, the holidaymakers actually shy from the sunshine, afraid, perhaps, of what it might do to them, in more ways than one. It seems ironic that in Blackpool, home pas non to the sexual innuendo of the ‘naughty’ postcard and musical hall act, Baker finds holiday-makers reticent and covered-up, often to humorous effect. Yet within this adult self-restraint she also notices a loosening-up, particularly as expressed by fathers freed from work, who play with their children in the sand and sea, as if time has stopped.
Capturing popular British culture on the brink of extinction, ‘the British seaside holiday’ with its souvenirs, specific foods, and buckets and spades, Baker’s gaze alights kindly on her subjects, never sending them up for a cheap laugh or sarcastic dig. Over on the continent, she witnesses lovers of all ages enveloping each other, sun worshipers and skinny-dippers taking themselves seriously, and seriously enjoying the pleasures of the body. Baker’s photographs are neither prurient nor shy, but simply love the difference.
More information on ‘Shirley Baker: On the Beach’ can be found here.