Hay-on-Wye, a quiet book town with a population pushing 2,000, was this summer declared to be the most visited venue in the country. Not only did many of these visitors come mask-free, but also they were often shirt-free, shoe-free, and trouser-free. As if in search of a photo-shoot. As if in search of Billie Charity.
From the newly born to the nearly dead, from the pot-heads to the pot-bellied, from rednecks to royalty, from the red-haired to the green-haired to the stripe-haired, they are all in this album. And that is just their dogs.
Covidity does not a typical summer make. Dicing with death is usually kept in the small print of package holidays. This rare collection of photos attempts to capture the unique quality of potentially fatal fun in 2021.
No-one is safe in the streets of Hay when Billie is on the loose with her oven-ready camera. Or when she and her family go away on holidays to the Welsh coast. Where the sea changes colour to accommodate her vision.
Out around town, conversation with her is likely to end mid-syllable whenever anything photogenic comes within 100 yards. Her instinct for the eccentric and the colourful, be it wacko clothes or unrecommended body shapes, is remarkable. Record-breaking beards, and flaming ladies, tattoos to make you twinge, and peacock impersonators – such quirks create portraits whose strength is a mix of imagery and narrative. Whose effect is to make the town seem like a playground or, more poetically perhaps, a Petri dish of the unconventional.
Down at the beach, her focus is on the odd ways that families – including hers – have fun. Like when cramped in a shelter or jiving on a rock. Her most recent seaside destination has been Porthcawl – there to celebrate Elvis. A photographer’s dream. This is a festival of geriatric rockers, whose vintage clothes are all XL, where ageing bodies and bodices are littered with loyal slogans. And, as so often, the vibrancy of the colours she reveals takes you completely by surprise.
But this strange year has also brought the surreal extra of virtual photo-shoots, from Los Angeles to Worthing to Clyro. A sense of privacy, plus a sense of trust in Billie, emboldens her subjects to lie in baths, cuddle on sofas, and dress as guitar-playing werewolves.
A consequence of spooling through this collective history of the new normal, of sharing these personal perspectives, is that one looks at life through awakened eyes, and becomes aware of a greater richness in everyday sights.
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