Photofusion special exhibition Shirley Baker: On the Beach


Photofusion presents the special exhibition Shirley Baker: On the Beach, curated by Anna Douglas.

Exhibition Dates: 12 May – 16 June 2016

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.

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