Shirley Baker | On the Beach
PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITION DATES
12 MAY – 16 JUNE 2016
Photofusion presents the special exhibition Shirley Baker : On the Beach, curated by Anna Douglas.
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.
Shirley Baker (1932 – 2014, UK) was a pioneering post-war photographer, whose humanist documentary work in Salford and Manchester traced communities through the 1950s and 60s into the 80s. Born in Kersal, Salford, Baker studied Pure Photography at Manchester College of Technology. She did not have the opportunity to own a union press card for the Manchester Guardian newspaper so was unable to work for the paper, instead pursuing over 60 years her own projects in the North West and the South of France, with periods in London in the 1980s. Baker’s passion for photography is perhaps best epitomised by her documentation of the daily life of the working class terraced streets in Salford and Manchester. Her first book ‘Street Photographs: Manchester and Salford’ was published in 1989, and had solo exhibitions in 2012 in Oldham and Salford. Baker continued photographing and completed an MA in critical history and the theory of photography at the University of Derby in 1995. In September 2014 Shirley Baker passed away after a short illness at the age of 82.
Anna Douglas has built up a reputation for imaginative exhibitions that integrate archive and contemporary photography and that provide audiences with thought-provoking new narratives. Her ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning: the authentic moment in British Photography’, commissioned by Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham in 2012, brought together a vast array of previously unseen photographs depicting Northern Working Class life, from the late 1950s, by an extensive range of professional and amateur photographers and drew a record attendance of18,500 visitors. Whilst the touring exhibition ‘Life Less Ordinary’ focused on a rarely seen body of anthropological photographs by Alfred Duggan Cronin, in a dynamic display that included some of South Africa’s most provocative and controversial contemporary artists each exploring the idea of race today.