Reflection

As the deadline fast approaches for this particular round of images I am reflecting on some of the amazing people I have met and the time that they have allowed me to speak with them.

I have learnt that as with any creative pursuit we actually never retire. We shall carry on dancing, photographing, writing, painting, singing and drawing until we are physically unable to. For me this project is a lot about connection and how do people come together? I think there is a human need that is fulfilled within creativity and theatre spaces create that specific "shared experience" that cannot be reached via tv, cinema or social media.

Marshall McLulan predicted the global village and the internet his prediction was that it would bring people together, make the world smaller. But some of my participants do not use technology, it has created "distance" for them, not connection The internet has its pluses for sure but nothing can replace a "coming together" of humans in one place: a concert, a dance, a theatre production an exhibition. These experiences bind us. What happens when we are not around anymore to tell our story. Will technology change our story?

I think my approach to the images as changed as the series has rolled out and I have hidden away a number of traditional portraits which allowed me to try and capture the connection with each sitter. With an ultimate ambition to pay homage to each participant.

At last Nina Bedini the initial person I met and inspiration for the project let me into her home this month to photograph her. I spent the afternoon looking through her personal archives, listening to her stories of how she had met her husband and became that foot juggler. It seems crazy to me that her grandchildren (who I know a little) did not find out that their grandfather and Nina's husband had been in The Rock and Roll Circus until he had gone. Please sit down with your family and dig deep to get those stories of who you are and where you are from - otherwise they disappear into the ether.


A big thank you goes out to the Big Issue this month https://www.bigissuenorth.com/features/2018/09/time-and-tide/  who featured the series and also featured the first female Doctor, Jodie Whittaker on the cover which felt timely and historical. Thanks again to The Big Issue. 


Time and Tide - Big Issue North

Patricia Lemoine stands in front of the weather-beaten railings before Blackpool's North Pier, surveying the imposing 500ft steel structure on the other side of the road. But she's not admiring Blackpool Tower as a feat of engineering or a tourist attraction, but as a landmark of her past ...

www.bigissuenorth.com


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Nowhere to Hide.

There was nowhere to hide from the summer heat in August and it reminded me of the time I worked as a photographer at The Mystique Show Bar at The Pleasure Beach, the song "Too Darn Hot" blasting out at the matinee and evening performance. I loved it, I used to look up at the dancers and think how "otherworldly" it must be? not seeing the light or the sunshine during working hours and wondering how you connect with the Blackpool audiences who always looked so hard to impress.

Blackpool has a history with photographers known fondly as smudges, they would grab your image for a small fee as you promenaded down the seafront in your best clothes and promising you the chance of buying a pristine print later. I did my apprenticeship that summer after graduating in Fine Art with darkroom practice, taking the tourists photograph as they sat down to enjoy the show - "don't take my picture love, you will crack the camera" - I never hear that pun now. It was a seasonal job after graduation - I loved it, but mostly cos I got to soak up the performance atmosphere around the shows on The Pleasure Beach.

I think I would have been known as a smudge if it was the 40's but it was 2001. Now Blackpool does not even have a camera shop.

I spoke to Leslie Melville this month an ex Butlins red coat at The Metropole he did five seasons and worked on cruise ships but he told me he might had been a photographer if he had not become a performer. He told me; "I had worked for the Saidman Brothers who were professional photographers based in Blackpool most early postcards of Blackpool were taken by The Saidman Brothers, The Studio was on Alfred Street, it is still there a big bay window above a barbers shop. I did that for 6 weeks. Maurice used to run the studio at The Gazette he would take me out to photograph gas works and I would be knee deep in mud, testing me to see if I really wanted to be a photographer, I did that most of that winter but I never went back."

Leslie does talks now - Tales of A Travelling Trickster.

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An intermediate conclusion

As the funded part of the project gathers momentum to come to a intermediate conclusion, I have been searching for public spaces to pop large scale images of the participants photographs in, ideally in windows around Blackpool where there will be high footfall. I am hoping to create some kind of arts trail where audiences will stumble across the images and log into the audios to listen to the participants stories.

Because the project was born from "the people" and the peoples "stories" my greatest ambition for the series of images is that people will start talking to one another about the great legacy of performance that Blackpool is built on creating new forms of respect within Blackpool's community and its unique and quirky social history.

July also found me doing two talks on the series at a Heritage event and at The Grundy Art Gallery. Meeting people who find a connection to the photography series is seriously rewarding with a lady approaching me to recommend two books which she felt had a connection to the series: The Years: Annie Ernaux and The Lonely City - Olivia Laing, books that appear to be a little about loneliness and how we keep memories. I have started to read the books and it has made me consider that perhaps indeed the photography series does have an element of loneliness, I think I mentioned a lot in the talks how we have perhaps stopped sitting down and connecting with people due to social media and its easier to email or text, its made me consider my own sense of loneliness and that the series is a way for me to perhaps selfishly connect with people through photography whilst being able to listen to golden "hidden" stories - we forget that as we get older (me included at 44) that we have lived! But in modern day it is youth that is in focus in fashion in commerce, in music but life is in a cycle so we are all effected by what has been before, I think it was Oscar Wilde who stated "Youth is wasted on the young."

Considering this and the elements of performance, how must it feel to connect to dozens of people at once from a stage, is it all encapsulating and can it be felt as a tangible experience in places like The Grand Theatre or The Opera House there is a sense of what has been before there - it holds a "special" atmosphere, is it true then that we feel that from people when we talk to them or listen to their stories or photograph them.

I want to thank Circus250, The Grundy and Visit Blackpool for including me in their current exhibition showing some of the #retiredperformers work up until September the 8th where you will find lots of other interesting work exploring circus and performance directly and indirectly. Please go if you get the chance. https://www.grundyartgallery.com/programme/


Grundy Art Gallery

grundyartgallery.com

#RetiredPerformers is a series of images and audio interviews being captured over 12 months by Blackpool-based photographer, Claire Griffiths.


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June has been a wild month

​June has been a wild month for the #retiredperformers series with indication from The Grundy Art Gallery Blackpool that they would like to show some of the work alongside the Circus 250 install. I feel delighted that some of the preliminary work for The Retired Performers will be shown alongside amazing photographers such as Peter Lavery and Barnet Saidman http://grundyartgallery.com/programme/current/.


Grundy Art Gallery

grundyartgallery.com

Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool. Forming a 360-degree horizon around the walls of the gallery, All the World's a Sunny Day comprises a series of collages made from found postcards, where a single word has been cut from the back and reinserted into the image on the front.


This month also included setting up exhibitions for #positionsofpower alongside a collaborative group I am in: The Disparity Collective - the work has been created with seven other amazing photographers as part of The Lightbox Residency https://www.redeye.org.uk/opinion/meet-lightbox-talent https://www.disparitycollective.co.uk/ with work to be shown at the Independent Biennial Launch in Liverpool. 


Meet the Lightbox Talent | Redeye

www.redeye.org.uk 

Redeye's Lightbox is an intensive year-long photography course, which launches the careers of professional photographers through workshops, networking sessions and support from experts in the photography industry.


June was also the month I spoke about The #retiredperformers series on Radio Lancashire with John Gilmore and one of my participants: Des Owen. You can currently see two of the large scale images installed at The Winter Gardens and The Blackpool Central Library.

If you are someone who has connections to performance in or prior to the 70's in Blackpool - I am especially interested in speaking to you so do feel free to get in touch.

I am doing a Heritage Talk at Grange Park on the #retiredperformers series 24/07 at 5pm and a talk with the curator of The Grundy Art Gallery Paulette Brien on the 28th. Love to see you there.

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Living room at Yuri and Tonya, May 2018

II went on a photography workshop to London in Peckham with some photographers I really admire, the workshop was around social history. It made me really think about why I am doing this series, one of the things that both that workshop and a recent fellow photographers exhibition highlighted to me was how I should be thinking about how to get "inside" the project. It reminded me that I needed to photograph around the series more and more. Meeting the participants to go through scrapbooks and have cups of tea at their homes if they would let me. Photographing personal artifacts and objects that might indicate a hidden life of performance. 

The process of getting to know past performers and their histories feels strangely intimate and somehow intrusive as a photographer to listen to memories and capture an image, I want to pay homage and demonstrate a sense of respect through the photographs. Peoples stories are the most interesting of all. How does photography open up a conversation?

LIVING ROOM AND YURI AND TONYA, MAY 2018
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An Eventful Month

​This month has been eventful co-ordinating individuals back into spaces they performed in most notably the Tower Circus. Working around current rehearsals and taking the time for the participants of the #retiredperformers series to have the experience of going back to the place they had begun their career.

The project itself is developing through the participants involvement, who they are and what their memories evoke. I spent some time this month with Blackpool Museum at their coffee morning where I met Karl Bartoni the only person to have performed an escape act hung from his feet from the top of Blackpool Tower. Karl began his career as a Circus Boy at The Tower, looking after the horses and then the polar bears.

The series of images is making me think about my own photograph practice and I am keen to include personal archives and portraits at home of participants as it seems wrong to take participants portraits without continuing relationships. Frank Lucas one of my initial volunteers for the series, his image is due to be installed in The Winter Gardens this month, revisiting at home with the sound artist Rick Thompson.


SANDRA GRIFFITHS
DEBBIE LANE
FRANK LUCAS AND HIS BAND
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Ex Roly Poly

​After visiting the Imperial Hotel this week and discovering its amazing interiors not to mention the number of notable visitors over the years, I shall be returning to photograph some of the participants of the #retiredperformers project. 

With great delight, I have met an ex Roly Poly this week, a retired entertainments journalist, a children's performer whose great-grandmother was a circus dancer and spent quite a bit of time buying vintage Blackpool postcards which I hope to incorporate into the process. 

Please if you feel you have your own story re: Performance or performing prior to the 1970's in Blackpool do get in touch.


THE IMPERIAL HOTEL
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The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones rioted in Blackpool in 1963 they were banned until 2003. Blackpool was always the town where bands came to play. It still is today - did you see The Rolling Stones riot in 63? What was the feeling? 

The Retired Performers Project Time and Tide is a series of images and interviews created to have a greater understanding of Blackpool's hidden performance community. The project's fluid approach encourages conversations and storytelling.

If you feel you might be able to help or share a story, please get in touch via the contact page.


THE ROLLING STONES RIOTED IN BLACKPOOL IN 1963
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Showzam 2015

Starting the Project: It is February 2018 but 2015 was the year, I met the retired foot juggler one of the inspirations behind the Time and Tide, Retired Performers Project. It was also the year I photographed Circolombia. I saw Nina (the retired foot juggler) again this week, in fact, I had breakfast with her family, she is getting ready for me to interview her on audio and have her photo taken, she told me a few tales, including one about Princess Margaret. 

The process of interviewing and photographing participants will last over 9 months. Building relationships and talking to performers who have a relationship to Blackpool takes time. Tomorrow I head back to the circus to photograph a Circusette who performed as Charlie Cairoli's assistant.


CIRCOLOMBIA 2015 AT SHOWZAM CIRCUS TOWN FESTIVAL BLACKPOOL, UK
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