Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Blackpool Experience

The following is adapted from an article that I wrote for the Photographic Press in 1982. Regardless of who I wrote it for - they didn't publish it. So this - dear reader, just for you, is a piece that the magazines of 1982 wouldn't touch with a barge pole...

At the time I lamented how long it had been since I got my slide projector out to give a slide show. Remember those? All that setting a screen up, setting the projector on a table or stepladder.

My slide projector was rather ancient. No push button remote to change slides. No magazine to hold them all. You dropped a slide in a slot on the top and pushed a lever at the side which moved the new slide in front of the lens and in turn pushed the current slide out of the side of the projector where it fell in the dark on the floor and you found it by hearing the noise of the plastic frame snapping when you trod on it...

So I was quite impressed when a friend took me to an exhibition show at the local photographic society. There were two projectors the slides fading into one another very professionally. Not only that but instead of the photographer describing the photos in person, a taped soundtrack with music did the job.

Then one day I was taking photos of a young lady and wanting to get her talking, asked where she worked.
"The Blackpool Experience" she said, "it's a slide show with 18 projectors and special effects!".

The next day saw me down at the Coral Island amusement arcade where around the back I underwent The Blackpool Experience.

The size of the screen was bigger than in many studio cinemas. To fill the screen with a single photo took three of the projectors projecting left, centre and right with softened overlaps. It worked very well.

The special effects included an old train with fiery boiler and smoke belching from the funnel. When Jayne Mansfield appeared on the screen, switching on the Illuminations, flashguns appeared to go off behind the audience from a strobe unit.

The show was the brainchild of Alan Murgatroyd who had been one of four photographers who had gone out in all weathers to take shots of the current day Blackpool. There were lots of photos of holidaymakers and others on the streets, the beach, the fairground. I asked Alan what their reaction had been.

"Normally you get the odd reaction - people asking what the photos are for - but nobody in Blackpool took the slightest notice of us! Blackpool's such a friendly place anyway, but it was really amazing. For instance, I was doing the sequence in the tattooist's parlour and we're in this tiny room, about eight feet by five. I had a camera on a tripod and loads of lights because I was using close-up lenses and this girl came in wanting a rose tattooed on her thigh. She just dropped her trousers and the tattooist got on with it. I was clicking away and she never even asked me what I was doing!" (Note: this might almost be the norm in 2011 but members of the public were not usually keen to bare flesh for cameras in public or otherwise in 1982!)

The photographs were taken over a period of two to three years. Somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 were taken and whittled down to around 1,400 for the show. They were mostly taken on Ektachrome 64 slide film on Nikon 35mm cameras for the candids with a Pentax 6x7 camera used for the views and a rostrum camera for the big panoramas.

The same company's The Jersey Experience won a silver medal at the New York Film Festival and the Blackpool show was also being submitted for awards. Meanwhile Alan and his team were planning to start photographing in York. As for me... my slide projector never seemed adequate after that...

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