Ocean Hotel Restaurant, Butlin's, Summer 2010
Anna Fox, Ocean Hotel, Restaurant, Butlins Bognor Regis, 2010, C-Type print © Anna Fox, courtesy James Hyman Photography, London
This photograph, of the Ocean Hotel’s new restaurant, represents a breakthrough for me in shooting the Butlins project RESORT; it was my first experience of working with a team, as opposed to on my own, and with Vicki Churchill directing the lighting (who then became more and more involved on each subsequent shoot) it was a revelation to discover how much more could be achieved in an image with a highly skilled group.
That day, in the Ocean Hotel, there were three of us; I was working on a 5x4 camera which was new for me. On later shoots the team expanded to around eight; each person with a specific role (or two) either to do with lighting, digital capture, documentation, model releasing as well as the actual camera work. Teamwork has been hugely influential in the development of this project; we were able to use more lights – particularly important in the large interiors – every aspect of the shot was checked and re-checked and it was also possible to deal properly with the public who may be walking in and out of the images. I had known the John Hinde images of Butlins for sometime and admired the very staged compositions and the stunning colour he used making the images feel like theatrical sets. My intention from the start was to attempt to look at the contemporary face of Butlins with the same kind of vision.
The Ocean Hotel is the most recently built accommodation on the Butlins site and so it was important to photograph it; it is a playfully designed building. I had tried the foyer and still wanted to photograph the actual bedrooms but the restaurant and bar were immediately appealing; they literally breathed bright colour. It was a blue sky day and this is always helpful if there is a window in the shot (in the sense that grey skies are too pale and rarely fill the space well). We came into the bar area to find several families with small children eating lunch. As Vicki set up the lights and the digital camera (for test shots – necessary to check for unwanted reflections etc).
I made sure I talked to everyone inside the restaurant and my assistant Steve checked everyone passing by outside. It was remarkable that everyone agreed to be in the shot – frequently restaurants are the most challenging places as people really do not like being photographed while eating. It takes time to set up and I was incredibly anxious as people were fast finishing their meals. There was a wonderful big group of three families near the door but I couldn’t quite get far enough back to get a good composition with them in. The family nearer the window were more ideal; framed by the bright pink wall they carried on eating without bothering to give me a second glance – a strange situation with three or four lights directed at them, a 5x4 camera on a tripod and a digital Nikon also on a tripod, wires running all over the place. The family were perfect for the shot and the colours of their clothing and the push chair were uncannily appropriate. The little girl, with painted tiger face, started to get impatient and could not resist turning to look at us – I took the first shot just before she started to pose and act up for the camera in dramatic style. It was a brief moment when her eye caught my lens and we were lucky enough to be ready.
This article has been taken from Issue 24 of the Pallant House Gallery Magazine.
Anna Fox is represented by the James Hyman Gallery, London.