rob ball


From early morning to late evening - I walked along the seafront looking and re-looking, waiting for the attractions to open and documenting the flow of the crowds in the shifting light of the sun. Each British seafront is both familiar and strange. A large amount of what I see, hear and smell is ubiquitous, repeated along the coastlines of our island.

The Flamingo in Margate looks like The Flamingo in Yarmouth, the change booth in Burntisland’s arcade has the same neons as the one in Southsea. The beach furniture is similar, too. Palm trees (fake, real and representative) are widely used to signify that we are by the sea, somewhere exotic. The food and drinks are repetitive and repeating; the unnatural, toxic hues of blue and pink and the smell of deep-fried fat coalesce with the sticky, sweet aromas of the candy floss, donut machines and location-specific sticks of rock.

There are moments - however, often created by geography or trend, that signify a uniqueness. At the coast these repeated themes sit alongside a welcome lack of homogeny, almost a lawlessness, as buildings are adapted from the theatre to the arcade to the pound shop and often back again. This looseness is something that can only be found on the Front where a year can be an unusually long time. The past and present both remain visible and heritage and progress are equally celebrated and form part of the attraction. I was drawn to the epic facades of the seafront during the making of this project; these large-scale graphic edifices with grand names such as ‘Magic City’, ‘Golden Mile’ and ‘Pleasureland’ sitting alongside the parking meters and rubbish bins. As we move closer into the seafront we start to see the cracks, faded paint and signs of (over) use.

Each seaside resort has been through ups and downs, but all still exist in one form or another, a testament to their resilience. Some limp on, unable to escape the past, others thrive, benefitting from coastal regeneration funds or often piecemeal developments from relocating out- of-towners looking for a change in lifestyle and a new beginning. The freedom of the seafront is echoed by its inhabitants and visitors. Here people move to runaway and reconnect, whilst day-trippers come to play. Here we are at our most open, in our dress and attitude, and here we play within the safety of the seafront package and the time-limited awayday.

In many ways this project is a sometimes failed attempt to celebrate the coast in all its neon glory. It’s easy to be sneering, but I revere the creators of our seaside culture; the ride operators, the shop workers, the arcade owners building frontages inspired by Las Vegas in locations without the climate, budget or glamour. These culture creators cannot rest, each year demands a refresh or redesign, in preparation for a new summer season. Life is keenly felt by the coast; the weather can be at its most extreme. The impact of people at the seafront is evident all year round, from the queues and rubbish generated by the summer visitors to the eerie dormant amusement park rides and signs with their lights out during the off-peak season.

It is the constant shifting of our coastal cultures which provoked a desire to record these spaces before the next wave of change; changes perhaps hastened by an uneasy political outlook. Regardless of our future, from Blackpool to Brighton and Rhyl to Ramsgate, British coastal resorts have the richest of histories to celebrate.. book