Carnival beauty queens by Erik Kessels

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Interest in beauty pageants has diminished in recent years, but not too long ago, they were an integral part of British culture. In their height of popularity, between the 1950s and 80s, thousands would turn up to watch competitions in their local towns, and millions tuned in across the country for the annual Miss World contest, once one of the most-watched live television broadcasts in the world.

In Tipton, a town in Sandwell in the West Midlands, England, the Carnival Beauty Queen Pageant was a key event in the annual summer calendar. But in 2010, after almost 50 years, the competition was scrapped, due to dwindling entry numbers and reports of squabbles among contestants.

But now, the competition’s former glory is remembered in an exhibition of found images presented by Dutch artist Erik Kesselsas part of West Bromwich-based photography festival Blast!.

Known for his interest in found and archival photography, Kessels has restored images of beauty queens that he discovered in the archive of the Brook Street Community Centre in Tipton. To coincide with the exhibition, the artist has produced a book, titled Black Country Beauties, that forms part of a series of collected images of standards of beauty around the world.

Kessels will also be showing images from his own collection, presented on the pull-down shutters of West Bromwich’s indoor market.

Blast! Festival of Photography, Talks, and Walks is organised by Multistory, a community arts charity based in West Bromwich that documents life in Sandwell and the Black Country

Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.