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White Rock Baths Photo by Brian Rybolt

White Rock Baths (photo: Brian Rybolt).

White Rock Baths, past and present

The White Rock Baths on Hastings seafront have been derelict for a number of years; although subjected to regular vandalism and allowed to deteriorate, this underground labyrinth still reveals poignant signs of its past incarnations, when it contained two swimming pools, a Turkish Bath and both roller and ice-skating rinks. Intrigued and captivated by derelict buildings, Hastings-based Brian Rybolt, a photographer for over 45 years, is exhibiting a captivating series of photographs of the White Rock Baths at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery. HOT’s Zelly Restorick went to the exhibition and met up with Brian to talk about his fascination with decaying buildings.

Exterior shot of the White Rock Baths Photo by Brian Rybolt

Exterior shot of the White Rock Baths (photo: Brian Rybolt).

What drew you to the White Rock Baths?

Since I was in my early 20s, I’ve always been drawn to derelict places that have a very human side to them. By this, I mean they were buildings where people learned about each others’ lives, made friendships and built relationships. To me, derelict and dilapidated buildings represent personal relationships – they grow in an odd way. Things turn out differently to how we might imagine they’ll be. I think what happens to buildings and old things… it’s like a mirror to our society, our throwaway culture – and how we let people go from our lives, which has consequences, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but we still do it. 

Swimming pool cum ice rink Photo by Brian Rybolt

Swimming pool cum ice rink (photo: Brian Rybolt).

How did you gain access to the buildings?

I’ve always had a natural gravitation towards underground environments; they’re kind of spooky. I heard about the baths a few years ago, but only researched them more recently – and then managed to obtain access via the local Council, who’ve been very helpful. I felt the building should be photographed for historic purposes. My project turned out to be very different from what I’d imagined.

Polite notice Photo by Brian Rybolt

Polite notice (photo: Brian Rybolt).

In what way?

What I originally wanted to do was to show remnants of the life that had once been there, similar to my photos of Ospedale al Mare. I thought I’d be able to show the human side of the place, but when I went down there, I saw it’d been subjected to so much vandalism, I knew that wasn’t going to happen… in fact, the place was vandalized a few times during the months I was photographing it, although not when I was actually there. So I decided I wanted to photograph the different aspects of the building for historical purposes… for an artistic reveal, before it changes into something else again. It’s the same reason I photograph graffiti when I’m in London; it’s constantly changing and it represents a kind of social history.

Was it a risky experience?

Steam bath mosaics Photo by Brian Rybolt

Steam bath mosaics (photo: Brian Rybolt).

It’s very dangerous down there, lots of Health and Safety risks, so I never went down there on my own, especially as I had no phone signal. The place is a real labyrinth and it took me a while to get my bearings, especially descending into the bowels of the place. There’re lots of wires hanging down and the place is flooded in places. It was extremely humid too and pitch black in places; I had to use a special LED panel and a powerful bicycle LED light with a long throw, as the lighting down there isn’t very strong. I found the steam rooms entirely by luck – with a marvellous mosaic floor and walls. At one point, I found a hundred or so ice skates, just left in a huge pile. 

Boots in cubbyholes Photo by Brian Rybolt

Boots in cubbyholes (photo: Brian Rybolt).

How do you like living in Hastings and are there other places you’d like to photograph?

I’ve lived here for about eight years. I really like the artistic energy – and it’s reminiscent of San Francisco, where I grew up, especially with all the hills. And I especially wanted to live near a body of water. I came here purely by chance – and when I stepped off the train, I swear to God, I was seduced by the place. I’m fascinated by the Hastings Observer building – I’d love to be able to photograph inside there.

Mosaic column Photo by Brian Rybolt

Mosaic column (photo: Brian Rybolt).

White Rock Baths

Photography by Brian Rybolt

Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, Bohemia Road, Hastings

Until 14 September 2014

Private view on 25 July 2014, 6pm – 8pm. All welcome!

Brian Rybolt’s website here. 

Find further insights into the history of the White Rock Baths here.

Posted 09:09 Wednesday, Jul 16, 2014 In: Photography

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