Oh We Do Love To Be Beside The Seaside... In Greenwich

The Great British Seaside, National Maritime Museum ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 53 months ago

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Oh We Do Love To Be Beside The Seaside... In Greenwich The Great British Seaside, National Maritime Museum 4
The blue skies and Union Jack give these seagulls fighting over food an almost cinematic feel. Copyright Martin Parr & Magnum photos.

Now that summer's on the approach (in theory, at least), it'll only take a mildly sunny weekend to send London families racing off to the seaside, crammed into cars inching through traffic just to find a small spot on the sand among thousands of others who had the same idea.

Perhaps it's our changeable weather mixed with our city living that makes spending time on a beach so alluring. This British love of the seaside is the theme of a new photography exhibition at National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

We love the absurdity of this one. Copyright Martin Parr and Magnum Photos.

Four British photographers combine in this show, looking at British beach life from the 1960s to the present day. The older works by Tony Ray-Jones show a antiquated beach life  — a man in a suit sits on a deckchair with cloth over his eyes to protect them from the sun. The idea of going to the beach in a suit sounds absurd in today's world, but we imagine it was pretty normal once.

As much as we like the black and white throwbacks, it's the contemporary photography that really shines. Children's faces slathered with ice cream, and seagulls fighting over a portion of chips, almost feel glamourised captured under bright blue skies. We particularly like the absurdity of a face down sunbather next to a parked heavy construction vehicle that looks like it's about to run them over.

Some earlier photos show beach life hasn't changed much, though they appear to have been more smartly dressed back then. Copyright Tony Ray-Jones, courtesy National Science and Media Museum.

Including Simon Roberts' photographs in this exhibition is a perfect counterpoint. Unlike the others, he's less interested in the people at the beach, but more the scale of it all. We get the burned out remains of Brighton Pier and a great shot over Saunton Sands where the sand, sea and sky are all different shades of grey — the only black flecks are the outlines of surfers heading to the water, or already in it.

This step back for a broader look at our beaches makes Roberts' work our favourite in this show — we're used to being among the thronging masses when on a beach so a reminder to take the scene in from a distance is always welcome.

Simon Roberts mixes up the show with his expansive beach shots. Here's Brighton's burned out pier. Copyright Simon Roberts, courtesy Flowers Gallery.

The photographs here also show a group of Indian women and a Sikh family at the seaside — the drive to get to the sea and soak in the sun has a universal appeal to everyone in Britain. Yes, the food is over-priced and when the weather is good it's far too busy, but it's what we do.  

As Martin Parr, one of the exhibiting photographers, sums it up:

The beach is that rare public space in which all absurdities and quirky national behaviours can be found

We here at Londonist are a sucker for a well designed exhibition and this show gets top marks for making sure all the walls are in the pastel colours we associate with beach huts. The normal gallery benches have been replaced with deck chairs and seafront style benches. To hold the show together there is a seaside cinema in the middle featuring short videos about all four photographers, and the 'now showing' screens outside are a lovely touch.

Don't forget to accessorise and have your picture taken out front of the show. Here's our attempt.

This is the perfect exhibition to roll us into summer. The weather may not yet be good enough to head to the beach, but we're suddenly craving some fish and chips and a 99 flake.

The Great British Seaside is on at National Maritime Museum until 30 September 2018. Tickets are £10.35 for adults, £4.50 for children.

Last Updated 31 March 2018