HOTSHOE's Amber Morahan recently caught up with Anna Fox to talk about her new book Resort 1. A conical of the most British of holiday destinations... Butlin's.
Amber Morahan: What inspired you to take on documenting holiday culture of Butlin’s?
Anna Fox: Well, I have been photographing in the South of England since 1983. I was hugely influenced by my tutors Martin Parr, Paul Graham and Karen Knorr at the West Surrey College of Art and Design (now University for the Creative Arts) who introduced me to the idea that the everyday and what lay right in front of my nose was as interesting as the bizarre and the exotic – I was born in the South and have continued to photograph the area as a significant part of my work. The Butlin’s project was a commission offered to me by Pallant House Gallery and Butlin’s working together with the University of Chichester. It was immediately interesting to me particularly as I knew other photographers like Parr, Meadows and Hinde that had photographed there – Butlin’s is a British institution with an amazing history and this was a brilliant opportunity to get inside and photograph the contemporary face of the Holiday Camp. Leisure is a great subject for the photographer and I have frequently photographed events and leisure activity as part of my previous projects – I also have a new commission from Photoaumnales, to photograph leisure sites in Beauvais in Northern France – due out late September 2014 as an exhibition and publication.
AM: Your previous projects such as Notes from Home and My Mother’s Cupboards are what we might consider personal projects. Resort 1doesn’t seem to have obvious connection to you. Do you see this project as something of a departure for you?
AF: My work is all very varied and dates back to 1983 when I started photographing social events using 35mm black and white. I constantly try to question and rework my approach to documentary storytelling and frequently decide to take on very different approaches and very different styles/ways of working. The approach to making work has to relate to the project (the style has to fit the idea) and I am interested in moving between the deeply personal through to the familiar through to the completely unfamiliar. My earliest projects documented Life in Basingstoke (1985/86) and London Office Life (Work Stations 1988) and these were things reasonably close to me (in that I lived 12 miles from Basingstoke and in that I had worked in offices before becoming a photographer) but no where near as intimate as the two projects you mention above. I have made work in France, The Netherlands and India as well and have a new project to make in Africa. By moving in between different relationships with my subjects I am able to keep questioning the relationship between photographer and subject that I have always found fascinating. In the 1990s I made two projects about leisure: Friendly Fire (weekend war games) and In Pursuit (modern leisure pursuits) so to photograph in Butlin’s Bognor Regis for a commission was a gift (as well - it was in the South and so has become an extension of my documentary archive of the South of England).
AM: In the forward to the book, two images from John Hinde –who famously photographed the Holiday parks in their heyday- are included. How would you say that your photographs relate to the ones made decades before?
AF: The John Hinde photographs, beautifully orchestrated and frequently highly coloured, were a huge influence on me in the development of this work and although my photographs were made for a different purpose (arts commission as opposed to advertising commission) I wanted to approach the subject in a similar manner. The effect of using large format and a lighting crew rendered the whole process much slower and more considered and as well it seemed like a more dignified approach to photographing families on holiday. This method also enabled me to gain incredible quality in terms of detail, colour and light – the photographs work well at a large scale (because of this quality) and the people in the photographs become monumental.
AM: Some of the photographs are deserted and others have are populated by holiday goers, how did you get people to interact with yourself and your camera?
AF: One of the great things about working with a large format camera and a lighting crew is that we appeared like a film crew and people found us interesting and they were interested to hear what we were doing and to take part – documentary projects record a history of how things are and people are interested in being part of history –we all are. The whole project depended on the technical crew with the main technical Director for photography Andrew Bruce and lighting Director Vicky Churchill, also talking to the holidaymakers about what we were doing and why. One of us talked to all the people coming in and out of the set and explained the situation and why we were doing it and what for – if someone didn’t want to be in the picture they had every chance to leave the scene and we knew not to photograph them. Photography is an interesting business and especially when it is large scale – so most of the holidaymakers were interested.
AM: How do you imagine the people represented in your book would feel about having their photographs in a publication, that in the main, will live on the coffee tables of the middle class?
AF: I personally love the idea of family holidays at Butlin’s becoming coffee table material but the context is broader than that. The exhibition tends to only reach particular audiences but the book will get out to a wider audience, and already has - two builders from Bognor bought copies from me last week, they had worked on building the renovated site and loved the pictures, they said it was a vital part of their history and were very excited to have the book – with the right publicity the book will get out to a broad audience and this is what I am aiming for – it is more than a coffee table book but it is designed like that deliberately – its great to have everyday, relatively ordinary life in a smart book.
AM: The book isn’t chronological. How did you approach sequencing the book?
AF: The narrative is built up over a period of time from looking at the images (as they are shot) and how they work next to each other – I am very interested in how putting certain images next to each other effects meaning and the story and am interested in how this works in films and in literature so I always play with this – as well I worked for several days with the brilliant designer Victor Levie in the Netherlands who lent his own designer’s eye to the construction of the narrative – it is a wonderful experience working with a good designer as they bring something new to the narrative structure that has more to do with an emotional relationship to colour and form and how these aspects of the photographs work within the narrative structure – in this series a chronological order is not relevant to the overall meaning.
AM: Whilst shooting at Butlin’s, were you a "holiday camper"?
AF: I stayed over and took part in the adult parties when I shot those – they were great. And if my children had been smaller I certainly would have taken them to a family break for a treat, they would have loved it – the crew and I stayed over a few times and enjoyed the whole experience. I had never been on holiday there as a child (I was taken on eccentric free camping holidays!) but my partner went there several times and loved it as did one of the writers Stephen Bull and many other people I know and all of these people shared fond memories of Butlin’s with me. I also know people who used to work there in their 20’s – they had mixed memories of the place which is another story.
AM: Resort 1 and 2, were they originally shot together and then when it came to edit, was the decision made to break them up into two books?
AF: Butlin’s definitely did not want the 2 series to appear together and I could understand this as the two different series’ represent two very different types of holiday – it was fine for me to separate them as although they all take place in the same site they are worlds apart.
AM: The subjects of Resort 2 will be adult breaks, a different subject matter and area of Butlin's. Will they be represented in a different way to the family breaks in Resort 1?
AF: They have been shot differently; the images for Resort 2 worked well shooting them with medium format and portable flash – the adult parties are like carnival and people expect to be photographed when dressed up – its not the same as a family holiday. I chose to photograph them mainly with a square format, a traditional portrait format, and they draw reference (in terms of style) from one of my photo heroes, Diane Arbus as well as from traditional portraiture – again I wanted the people to appear monumental – these adult parties are a really modern phenomena and it felt exciting to be able to record these – I am really keen to be recording things like this for posterity and I am also keen to develop my documentary archive on Southern English life.
— Amber Morahan