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Picturing the family
Picturing the family

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6.3 Seaside photography

New Brighton beach featuring the canvas tent studio of James Ravenscroft
Image 88 Photographer/Painter: Anon. Subject: New Brighton beach featuring the canvas tent studio of James Ravenscroft, 1880s.

Photography appeared in British fairgrounds in the late 1850s. At this time inland fairground operators were expanding into new venues on the foreshores of the developing seaside resorts. Penny profile cutters had been a regular component of fairground entertainment. So it was only a matter of time before cheap photographers encroached on their sites and banished the competition.

Activity 25

Can you make any comments about these portraits taken on the beach?

Two women and a man sitting on a beach
Image 89 Photographer/Painter: Anon. Subject: Two women and a man sitting on a beach.
Woman sitting on a stone wall with young girl
Image 90 Photographer/Painter: Arnell & White, Bridlington and Scarborough. Subject: Woman sitting on a stone wall with young girl.

Answer

Many of the portraits taken on the seashore, such as Images 89 and 90, echo the conventions of the studio with their formal poses and serious expressions. The accessories of the high-street studio have been replaced by the portable paraphernalia of the beach holiday such as buckets and spades and fishing nets. In these examples the situation against the sea wall replicates the anonymity of the studio backdrop though the wall was presumably chosen with an eye to the lighting conditions it afforded. Most Victorian holidaymakers went to the beach dressed in Sunday best. Formal attire must have played its part in encouraging formality in seaside portraiture.