Review by Melanie Chapman •
Escape is on the minds of many people these days, now that we are in various stages of “Stay at Home” efforts to reduce the spread of a global pandemic. As warmer weather approaches, fantasies of trips to the beach have been curtailed by a reality that few could have imagined only a few months ago. When will we ever be able to gather again? Will we ever be able to pack up the car and head to the shore, kids and grannies carrying buckets and blankets for a leisurely sunny afternoon? Depending on your current disposition, the photobook Fifty High Seasons may evoke nostalgia for family trips to the seaside, or perhaps stir up melancholy for a time and place we have never experienced but now yearn to be immersed in.
Fifty High Seasons by Irish photographer Shane Lynam documents the faded landscape of French beachside developments, built in the early 1960s as an effort to provide affordable resort alternatives to the more chic and expensive neighboring sands of Cote d’Azur. As if showing up to a party forty years after the last guest has departed, Lynam began spending his summers along this coastline in 2003. It would be a number of years before he began the decade long photo project which comprises Fifty High Seasons, yet from the beginning he “felt compelled to photograph the surfaces of the colourful surroundings” in ways unlike anything he had done before. An occasional tourist crosses the frame, sharing space with others in a way now familiar to those of us practicing social distancing, but at the time perhaps lost in their own nostalgia. No one is in a hurry, not even the plants that slowly reclaim the land.
As an observer, Lynam’s work evokes the stark topographical images of mid-1970s Robert Adams. The geometry of a planned community that did not turn out as planned clearly compels Lynam’s eye. It is to the viewer’s benefit that professionally Lynam shifts his photographic energies between editorial work with an emphasis on architecture and long term self-assigned projects such as this one. He took his time in order to fully know the subject he would document; from the first image we sense his appreciation of empty street scenes, sun bleached murals, barren trees, and lonely carnivals.
One gets the sense of being Lynam’s silent companion as he walks along the sand, listening for the laughter of children long-since grown, or turning the corner of yet another empty street scene while nursing a slight disappointment that the proverbial endless summer is over, perhaps searching for the last sun-bather when everyone else has packed up and gone home. Fifty High Seasons offers a tangible fondness for the faded glory of a resort town which now looks like the backlot of a dystopian movie in which all the humans disappear and only the buildings remain. Beach cottages are shuttered, tufts of grass grow through pavement cracks, water park slides feed into algae tinted pools, and the lone shop worker gazes down a soulless boardwalk.
Thematically, Fifty High Seasons could be a cousin to another photobook, Brian Rose’s “Atlantic City”, which also focuses its gaze on a resort community that has outlived its planned glory days. However, as photographer Rose documents in his images and accompanying text, the beach town of Atlantic City crashed and burned as a gambling and tourism mecca primarily as a result of one man (Donald Trump)’s corruption and greed, whereas Lynam’s run down coastal developments owe their decline to forces not entirely spelled out, symbolized instead by a large luxury liner that ran aground in the late 1960s and was for a time itself a tourist attraction.
As a book, Fifty High Seasons will be a welcome addition to your collection. The book design of Joseph Miceli adds visual space to breathe, by way of soft pastel pages that complement the color palette of the preceding images, which are appropriately printed with a matte finish. The Smyth binding of this hardcover photobook allows it to open flat to reveal not only an aerial view of the grid-like pattern of the blockish homes and equally dull automobiles from decades gone by; but also displays the book’s stitch binding which enables each page to lay flat as we repeatedly return to the images in Fifty High Seasons and fall, as Lynam must have, slowly and surely ever more in love with this place.
Shane Lynam, Fifty High Seasons
Photographer: Shane Lynam (born in Dublin, county Dublin, Ireland and currently resides in Dublin, Ireland)
Self-published, Dublin, Ireland, copyright 2018
Afterword: Shane Lynam
Text: English & French
Hard Cover, Swiss-bound with Smyth binding that is section-sewn, edition of 750, Printing and binding Kopa, Kaunas
Book design by Joseph Miceli
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