by Andrew Mellor
Andrew Mellor is a landscape photographer, born and raised in Blackpool in North West England and still currently living there. The landscape is Mellor’s main focus and interest, and he likes to explore the man-made landscape and the natural; the human impact within and on the landscape, and the sometimes far-reaching political, social and psychological effects or consequence.
On this topic is Mellor’s work On The Fringe, looking at the draining effect of tourism on the famous (or infamous?) seaside resort town of Benidorm. With a personal connection to Spain, this project hit home and seeks to ask bigger questions about the practice of tourism and its sustainability.
Is your interest in the man-made landscape versus the natural landscape at all influenced by where you were born and lived as a child, and now as an adult?
I think my childhood had a great impact on my interests, as I spent a lot of my time on days out for example in the Lake District and Scotland. And there was lots of hill-walking, fishing and camping so there was always this contrast with the environment of where I lived and where I visited.
It was during my degree that I learnt and discovered the themes around the landscape and how much it impacts society. I find it really interesting that the landscape is an intrinsic part of identity – not only affected by where we live, but also from where we visit and what we experience.
How did you get involved with photography?
Photography for me was something I picked up as a hobby from my dad. He had this Pentax K1000 and I loved it. He would let me play with it until I was about 14, but it was years before I decided to start taking it seriously.
In 2002 my dad passed away and I inherited his camera. At the time though, digital was just taking off, film was getting expensive and the labs were shutting down – so I lost interest for a number of years because I had felt that digital still had a way to go and I wasn’t sold on it.
However, before long, I succumbed to buying a digital camera and then in 2012 I decided (on a whim) to sign on for a degree! The BA Hons. in photography at Blackpool and the Fylde College, through Lancaster University. I was lucky to have some fantastic tutors who pushed and challenged me, and taught me to see photography differently. I returned to shooting film and since then, it has become part of my everyday life.
Tell us about your project On The Fringe.
This project came off of the back of previous projects I did on the town of Fleetwood and their fishing industry. During my research, I discovered that Benidorm was also once a fishing town and that the industry had collapsed in the 1950s. To combat the loss of industry, they used the town’s resources and developed a mass building programme and re-invented the town as a tourist destination.
After more research, I came across several instances of how the town was struggling despite a healthy tourist industry. One of the causes for this is the rise in all-inclusive hotels; as a result of the popularity of these all-in-one establishments, jobs are becoming hard to find and they are driving down the prices of the local food and drink establishments. People are less inclined to go out and spend money when they can get all the food and drink they need at the hotel they have already paid for.
The idea of tourism intrigues me because I live in a tourist town, so I see first-hand the impact tourism can have on a place and on the residents of the town. I hear Benidorm frequently described as being “like Blackpool, but with sun” and I am drawn to the subject.
This is such an intriguing subject – being half-Spanish I’ve always sort of looked down upon Benidorm as I’ve always thought that it was too touristy, despite never having been there. It’s all in the media, as it’s portrayed very much as a “Brits abroad” sort of place.
So it’s fascinating and at the same time, distressing to hear about its history – how it started out as a fishing town and went knee-deep into tourism to try to save the area, which might now be its ruin.
I don’t think you are far wrong with that statement – I had a similar opinion before visiting. Benidorm is a lot of things and it most certainly has the Brits abroad feel to it. Lots of English bars serving English breakfasts; but, I was shocked and pleased to see that there were parts and businesses where the Spanish heritage and culture were still being remembered and kept alive.
Was it a conscious decision to leave the people out of it? It gives a pretty mysterious air to the images, as well as perhaps being a bit frightening as to how empty the town looks. Is this the future of the town? Abandoned, empty?
Yes it, was my choice to not include people in this project. I didn’t want to make it too obvious, as this project is about the town as a whole and how people are influencing it – as opposed to directly about the people. I did consider it but as Benidorm is pretty much a “Brits abroad” type place, I felt that it might confuse the project.
The mysterious atmosphere is something I wanted to capture and it can be quite frightening when you realise these images were shot just on the outskirts of what is known as the “New Town”, some areas being literally a five minute walk from dense population.
If the all-inclusive hotels keep proliferating in this manner, then the streets could very much end up empty. I don’t think it will ever be totally abandoned, but instead people will be ensconced inside these resorts with little need to venture outside.
I am also now very curious to see what the future will hold for the town with the terms of Brexit as yet undecided. It could very well change matters considerably for a town like Benidorm.
The images are sort of warm, with a yellow or green tint to them. It evokes a bit of a grim feeling – everything looks a bit sickly. Which, I think, describes the town in the images.
It looks poorly and maltreated; broken gates, the grey skies and the claustrophobic-inducing denseness of the ugly apartment buildings. Was this on purpose?
Yes, very much so. The aesthetics were important, and I drew massive parallels between Benidorm and my hometown – there are parts that can look pretty grim, especially when they are both very popular stag and hen locations.
The maltreatment is made considerably worse by the all-inclusive hotels. Essential services have become strained, and the upkeep and renovation of certain parts has become financially unstable as the local government struggles to budget and determine what is necessary and what is not. For example, the sea front looks lovely and well-maintained, yet the areas that visitors and tourists don’t frequent don’t receive the same treatment.
Unfortunately, tourism depends on a steady stream of income but when the income is going to large holiday companies instead of the local economy, it becomes difficult to maintain. It’s probably worth noting that there is generally a very narrow margin between booking a room only and going all-inclusive, so it becomes a no-brainer for most people when they see that they can get all food and drink for such a small extra cost.
As part of my research, I also watched the popular TV show Benidorm; it encapsulates this premise perfectly. It highlights certain issues about the town, and looking through the comedy it shows the very disease of the all-inclusive mentality and how that type of tourism model doesn’t suit a town like Benidorm.
Now a more personal question – what inspires you?
I try to take my inspiration from as many places as I can. I am always on the lookout for inspiration and I find it can come from almost anywhere – so long as you are open to it.
I really love Christian Patterson’s work. I find him hugely inspiring, especially the way he chooses to exhibit his work, often going beyond just prints and actually using physical objects – like the phone he used while exhibiting Bottom of the Lake. He made it a totally immersive experience by using sound.
I also like to go to the beach. I spend a lot of time on the promenade as it’s a good place to think. Sometimes I will go down there and shoot some sunsets – it’s not about the pretty sunset pictures, it’s more about just taking the time to consider things, blow away the cobwebs… and to get some peace.
I read a lot and try to keep up to date on what’s happening in the photography world. One of two inspiring books I read recently was The Ongoing Moment by Geoff Dyer. This book was fascinating, as he unpicks a variety of different photographers’ work and the relationships they have – and the fact that he admits that he is not a photographer gives a unique standpoint as he is writing as the viewer of, not a photographer.
Also Believing is Seeing by Errol Morris is a fantastic book. This is presented almost like a crime that needs to be solved, and is very important in seeing how a photographer can change the intention of an image. This shows just how the intention of a photographer can change the scene they are supposedly recording, leaving the viewer with a certain impression.
What are you up to next?
I am currently researching and developing a new project, which will be an extension of the work I have already done on Fleetwood. I have been intending on doing this for a while, but decided to take a little break from it so I could work on some other things. I have also been working on and off for the last couple of years on a project based around the stretch of promenade along Blackpool’s seafront, but I have yet to fully realise and make sense of this work. I have also just finished a long project called Yesterdays which is a personal exploration of my childhood and the place I grew up.