Sunday, 11 July 2021

Seaside Modern: Walkies

Pat Faulkener, Heather Odd, Michele Morize, Barbara Hunt and Wendy Spenceley, Ramsgate, 1959.
© SEAS Photography / Wendy Arnhiem.

Life on the beach has been documented by photographers for over a century. Early on, only the wealthiest beach-goers could afford to take pictures (or shoot cine film) themselves, or to have them taken, but by the late 1930s beach photographers had become a feature of seaside life.
At Margate, Kent, the Sunbeam Photographic Agency documented seaside life on a huge scale, its photographers taking casual snaps - known as Walkies - of holidaymakers, who then had the opportunity to buy the pictures for a small fee. 

Wendy Hollet (nee Marsh) on a Sunbeam donkey
SEAS Photography / Vincent Marsh

Often photographers used props, particularly models of animals, on the backs of which children would perch. The resulting pictures are as strange as anything dreamt up by a Surrealist, and also warm-hearted, as these beach photographs generally are. There is nothing exploitative nor overtly staged about them. They are simply pictures of ordinary people enjoying their day on the beach: leisure that was theirs to enjoy by right. 


Promenade Group, © SEAS Photography / Paul Godfrey.

The beaches of Britain were the setting and inspiration for remarkable developments in modern art, and architectural gems dot the coast, from the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea to the Midland Hotel, Morecambe. Yet in a way what made the 20th century British seaside truly modern were the social and political advances that enabled so many to enjoy a day at the beach.

This is an edited excerpt from my catalogue essay for Seaside Modern: Art and Life on the Beach, which runs until October at Hastings Contemporary. I am grateful to the South East Archive of Seaside Photography for lending us a selection of wonderful Walkies!

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