Margate Meets: Rob Ball

You may have seen or heard about Rob Ball quite a lot recently. He photographed Margate's theme park, Dreamland, before its long awaited multi-million pound restoration. Images from his project, 'Dreamlands', are now on display at The Photographers' Gallery in London.

Rob kindly agreed to answer some of my questions. 

Why did you photograph Dreamland? Was there anything in particular that you wanted people to see in/think about the images?

I wanted to document the park in a way that kept me engaged and interested. I don't really think about others when making work. Looking mainly at the man-made, I tried to show the history of the place while allowing myself to be influenced by the archive images from the South East Archive of Seaside Photography.

What interests you photographically? Which artist's/photographer's work do you enjoy?

I originally trained as a press and sports photographer and started working on independent projects when I was on my MA course at the London College of Communication. I spent some time as a forensic photographer and became increasingly interested in that 'objective' vision, as well as the New Topographics movement. More recently, I have been thinking about the process and the spectacle, which is where the use of tintype comes in.

Can you tell us more about tintype and why you chose this medium?

It seemed to me that using tintype would allow me to establish a greater connection to the space that I was working in. The first hour of a shoot would be spent building a darkroom with my assistant Jason Pay. The physical traces that are on the photographic plates (dust, sand, my fingerprints) point to the making and the process. The tintypes are unique; the plates on the gallery wall are the same ones that were in the camera in Dreamland when I was taking the pictures. They aren't prints, and again, this emphasises physicality within the project. 

What are your favourite things about Margate? Do you have any particular hopes for the town?

I love the strong creative community and the willingness to have a go. I hope the regeneration continues without a loss of identity. 

What will you be working on next?

I have an interest in coastal towns undergoing some form of repair and restoration, focusing specifically on the architecture of entertainment. Recently, I went to Coney Island and plan to continue working on the project at different locations with varying outputs over the course of the next year. I also deliver tintype studio events, which are part spectacle and part exhibition. Visitors are invited to have their portraits made and an exhibition is built over the course of a day. 


Using large format, Rob's images stylistically echo the park's past. The photographs show the remaining features and objects within the abandoned area of land that was once filled with colourful rides and scores of people. I find the images haunting; they generate those typical faded sounds of laughter, screams, mechanics and fairground tunes. The noise of the carriages moving along the wooden structure of the scenic railway seems so clear all of a sudden, I didn't realise I remembered it. I feel like I am looking for hidden figures in Rob's work; ghosts of the past, perhaps. The photographs are a reminder of what was the reality for so long; a huge, overgrown and destroyed part of Margate full of unhappy, neglected relics.

Of course, that's behind us now. Dreamland opens in a just a couple of days and its trademark pastel colours are brightening up the town nicely. Certainly for my generation, it feels like things have never been better. The sense of things to come is enormous; everybody's talking about it and we're all waiting for the big reveal.

You can see more of Rob's images in his new book, Dreamlands

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