By the Sea

Great British seaside Bank Holiday, when I first came upon this expression on a Facebook event page, I got very excited. I was attracted to its iconic striped deckchairs, beach huts along with fish and chips and ice cream and I knew then that I would do a project about it.

The great British seaside holiday came into its heyday in the post-war years, the 1950s and 1960s. Whether it was a day out at the seaside or a fortnight, all British resorts offered fun and escapism from daily life. Like some Londoners might choose, I went to Brighton on Bank Holiday. 

There were too many exciting things happening on Brighton's sunshine coast to count - amusement arcades, candyfloss stalls and seafood shacks selling cockles and whelks in paper cones. Along the promenade, I saw shops selling rock, postcards, buckets and spades, along with plastic windmills and packets of flags to adorn the sand castles. And many flocking to the pebbled seafront, both young and not-so-young, were captivated by the penny machines and the nostalgia lingering in the old-fashioned stalls. Brighton, on a sunny Bank Holiday, there’s simply no better place to be. 

After wandering about the beach for a long time, it dawned on me that I was here to shoot a photo essay. Many of Britain’s most celebrated photographers, such as Martin Parr, Simon Roberts and David Hurn had made an important contribution to the development of British beach photography. The question was what my strength was and what I should do to make a difference. I realized that it was my first time being there and everything was new and fresh to me. And it was the sense of distance and freshness that added warmth and honesty to my photos: they are a snapshot of the way things were. Inspired by Martin Parr’s latest series Beach Therapy, I used a telephoto lens to shoot my one-day experience on Brighton. According to Martin Parr, “the seaside has to be one of the most fascinating places for people-watching. It is a place where we relax and lose our inhibitions, and that’s when true personalities come on display.” And the telephoto lens, with its ability to flatten and compress, had been somewhat shunned by the art world so I was keen to explore what was possible. 

On the beach, I captured families sheltering behind windbreaks, two elderly people relaxing in deckchairs, the children skipping pebbles on the sea, and some young men paddling in the sea. The telephoto lens enabled me to stand away from the holidaymakers on the beach, making photos look as honest as they are. Different generations and cultures brought together through the laughter, tenderness and absurdity associated with the British seaside experience. If the audience could see the changing and unchanging face of the British seaside Bank Holiday, I would tell myself I succeed.

I loved my one-day journey to Brighton. Walking along Brighton beach created a wonderful atmosphere that made me appreciate the little things in life. Just sitting on the stones and watching the sea and the waves were great for relaxing gave me the chance to spend a few quiet minutes by myself. And I loved my photos, their authenticity and genuineness.

© 2019 by leizhang