Alexandru Micu: Beyond the sea
Great Britain, being an island, is surrounded by water. The outlier of Europe, the Brits have always had a thing for their coastal towns. Bournemouth, Brighton, the Kent coastline, are the ones that come to mind first. The sea is hugely important for many industries — tourism, fishing, transport. Often mocked on the continent, especially by the Mediterranean countries where there are not only beaches but also the proper weather for them, the British will flock to parks or the seaside as soon as the sun is out, baring their skin and donning their summer gear, no matter the temperature. If it’s sunny, it’s beach time! It’s part of the national fabric, its culture documented famously by Martin Parr in his book Life’s a Beach. Alex Micu follows in his footsteps but with deliberately less irony — pebbles, fish and chips and grey weather form his project.
The photographer calls the seaside towns an ecosystem of their own. They were “left to decay in disarray after the democratisation of holidays in the 1970s and 80s and never really recovered since. They are ruins that also have a sense of Britishness not seen anywhere else.”
Micu mentions that there had been a noticeable shift in the last 50 years or so when flights became affordable to most, meaning that nobody was forced to stay in Britain for their holiday. Suddenly France, Ibiza, Greece and many other destinations were within reach, places where British tourists could enjoy lush beaches coupled with glorious weather. But 2020 was different. As we are all too aware, world tourism was grounded to a stark halt due to Covid-19. Everyone found themselves stuck overnight not only in their own country but in their homes too, for what seemed to be perpetuity.
The photographs were shot on Kodak film and are soft, calming, almost serene. One wouldn’t be able to tell that there was a global pandemic unraveling — a true demonstration of the well-known throughout the world British stiff upper lip. Keep calm and carry on. Keep calm and build sandcastles, eat ice cream, have a dip in the sea. On the surface, the images show typical holiday scenes. When coupled with the context in which they were photographed, though, they become so much more than that. Micu’s pictures are documents of a year hopefully never to be repeated again in our lifetime.
— foreword by Zak R. Dimitrov
Alex Micu is a London-based, Romanian-born photographer
Seaside towns in the UK are an ecosystem of their own: left to decay and disarray after the democratisation of holidays in the 1970s and '80s and never really recovering since. They are ruins that also have a sense of Britishness not seen anywhere else. People are making the most out of shifty weather, pebbled beaches and fish & chips. But over the last half-century, visitor numbers have dwindled, as cheap flights beckoned thousands to enjoy guaranteed good weather elsewhere.