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RESORT 1 and 2
These two new bodies of work, made between 2009 and 2011, record the contemporary face of Butlin’s, Bognor Regis – one of the well known British holiday camps built by Billy Butlin in the 1930s creating a unique environment for working class British families to have their first real holidays. The two series, Resort 1 and 2, observe some of its most recent developments and consider the new ways in which the Butlin’s resort is providing a leisure environment for public consumption. Butlin’s today sells both family holidays and adult weekend breaks (where no under 18s are allowed). Resort 1 records the family breaks while Resort 2 looks at the adult weekends – the two bodies of work have been kept separate (i.e. not exhibited together and when published in a book will be either as two separate volumes or in two sections/chapters) so as to make clear that these events do not happen together and although they do take place in the same space they never collide. This was an important decision due to the nature of some of the adult weekend images.
Butlin’s have their own archive documenting the resort which shows that the original holiday camp was a place where families could get away from it all; take part in group fitness activities; have the children looked after during the evenings; swim in the (then) fantastic leisure pool and be entertained by comedians and performers during the evening or compete in one of the endless Butlin’s competitions. Today’s Butlin’s holiday camp is quite a different affair; sports and fitness activities have largely disappeared (one dance class started during the two years I was there). The contemporary emphasis is on consumption whether it is staged performances, giant teddy bears telling bedtime stories to children, arcades, slot machines, bowling alleys, parties, American pool halls, countless restaurants and snack bars, the pub, hairdresser, make up shop, toy shops, recording studio – holiday makers pay for all the extras they consume. Each different entertainment area/type overlaps the next, they are like mini stages or sets in a television studio you can slide from one to another easily spending more money as you go.
While researching the project I looked at a number of different representations of Butlin’s that included the highly staged and colourful photographs were made by the John Hinde Studio (1970’s) on a large format camera by a team of photographers and assistants and with total collaboration from the Butlin’s company, who assisted in the setting of scenes and the co-ordination of models. One of the Hinde photographers talks about how the walls of each set were paper-thin and if you leant on them you were likely to fall through. Although today the walls between sets (entertainment environments) are not so flimsy there is still a sense, as you roam the site, that you are moving from one theatre stage to another and certainly in the few chalets (bedrooms) that remain (soon to be replaced by another new hotel) the walls are not in the slightest bit soundproofed.
I decided that, for Resort 1 (that focused on the family holidays) I wanted to partly replicate the methods of the Hinde studio in order to emphasize the theatrical sense of the place and the drama particularly that a child might feel encountering Butlin’s for the first time. I got together a technical team, large format cameras (both analogue and digital) and high quality portable lighting. This type of production became like a movie set; assistants were required to manage lights as well as digital capture. The team and the team management were vitally important; 1st assistant Andrew Bruce and lighting director Vicki Churchill were key to both framing the image and managing the rest of the team. This was the first time I had worked in such a group and the nature of the process was quite different from the ‘lone photographer’ approach I had been used to. Resort 2, the adult party weekends, was completed before Resort 1 and I chose to work on this series more as a set of portraits of groups and individuals. The UK has a massive drinking culture with wild nights out in many city centres often punctured by scenes of drunken violence and serious accidents. At the Butlin’s adult parties, drinking was the main activity but the atmosphere was completely different to the regular Saturday night: weekends were themed and the holidaymakers dressed up in spectacular costumes with large numbers of the men dressed as women (a popular British thing) and whole groups dressed as Honolulu girls or as Elvis’s or as Amy Whinehouse’s. Resort 2 became a portrait project primarily because of the fabulous costumes.
“Fox sees in the Butlins experience a series of social encounters set against the culture, values and commercial imperatives of a successful and evolving business. Fox sees business in operation – the sets and costumes, the highly trained redcoats, but she also sees the tools, the construction and the evolving site (things decay, multi-million pound hotels emerge). ‘In my photographs I have tried to give small clues to the theatrical nature of the Butlins resort by making sure there are always details of the world behind the stage set visible at the edges of the images.’ Fox also conveys that unique proposition of a Butlins holiday, one that is highly self-contained, safe and family orientated: children and adults alike create moments of sheer fantasy – there is freedom of expression here – and there is boredom and waiting and conspicuous consumption too. Moving between the poles of the ordinary and extraordinary is Fox’s leitmotif. In Anna Fox: Photographs 1983-2007[i] Fox finds the surreal and funny in her Hampshire village, depicts the social fabric of Basingstoke as a new business hub, and with extraordinary care and honesty explores the relationship of her parents as they deal with long term illness. The reason I find Fox’s work so apprehending is that she appears to judge so well how to engage with the subject of her work, with warmth or humour, or when to observe with cool neutrality. In this exhibition, the topic of holiday, leisure and class are clearly close to hand, but so to is the level of the artistic challenge. How to represent these themes is as much a technical challenge as it is a creative and political one.”
Dr Roni Brown , an exert from an essay published in the Pallant House magazine in 2011.
* Resort 1 and 2 were commissioned by Pallant House Gallery where it was first exhibited and supported by Butlins, UCA and Goldenshot. The exhibition, Resort 1, is now on tour and opened at James Hyman Gallery in London on October 11 2011. Resort 2 will be shown in 2012.
Anna Fox made this work with a production team:
Lighting Director – Vicki Churchill
First Assistant – Andrew Bruce
Digital Capture – Jenny Patterson
Assistants – Danni Evans; Jasper Wyatt; Robin Godden; Tracey McEachran; Stephen Catten, Felix Fox, Emmie Torstensson; Hjortronsteen; Helen Goodin; Katie Bedlow; Holly Hang; Clare Long; Hannah Clark; Luke Norman; Sveinung Skaalnes.
ANNA FOX completed her degree in Photography at The West Surrey College of Art and Design in 1986. Influenced by British documentary tradition and US ‘New Colourists’ her first work Workstations (published by and exhibited first at Camerawork, London 1988) observed with a critical eye London office culture in the mid-Thatcher years. Later work documenting weekend war games, Friendly Fire, was exhibited in the exhibition Warworks at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Fox’s solo shows have been seen at The Photographer’s Gallery, London, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago amongst others and her work has been included in numerous international group shows including – From Tarzan to Rambo at Tate Modern; Centre of the Creative Universe: Liverpool and the Avant Garde at Tate Liverpool and How We Are: Photographing Britain at Tate Britain. Numerous monographs of her work pare in print and a major monograph Anna Fox Photographs 1983 – 2007 was published by Photoworks in 2007 edited by Val Williams. The first retrospective show of her work, Cockroach Diary and other Stories, opened at Impressions Gallery in summer 2008 and is now touring Europe. Anna Fox was shortlisted for the 2010 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize and the 2012 Pilar Citoler Prize.
Her new project, Resort, commissioned by Pallant House Gallery opened June 2011 and is now also on an international tour. Anna Fox is currently Professor of Photography at the University College for the Creative Arts in Farnham where she has co-written, with Dr Deepak John Mathews, the new post graduate course in Photography at the National Institute of Design in India (UKIERI funded) and is managing the UK/India student mobility project at UCA funded by PMI2.
Visit Anna’s website to view more of her work.