A new era of pageants: Jack Kenyon photographs Miss Ramsgate

Mixing pictures of the event in action with classic school photo-like portraits, the photographer demonstrates how this pageant is more about community than perfection.

15 April 2024

Jack Kenyon has something he calls a “good picture radar” – an alarm that goes off when he knows a scene unfolding in front of him would make a brilliant picture. It’s usually something slightly uncanny, or an event that sits outside of the ‘normal’, but not too much. This radar went off when he was watching Margate’s town carnival procession last summer. In particular, what set it off was the floats carrying young women dressed in tiaras and sequined ball gowns who were waving to the crowd “in that funny way the queen used to do”, says Jack. After some serious Googling and emails Jack got himself an invite to an event that some of the women were attending – Miss Ramsgate.

The Miss Ramsgate selection night is part of a series of pageants that takes place across all of the towns in Kent, where an individual is selected to represent their locale. Dressed in all their finery, on the night each participant is asked to perform a speech and answer a few questions, judged by a panel and watched by a bustling crowd of friends and family. The event called out for Jack’s trademark approach: off-the-cuff images made surreal by a resounding flash. But also some new methods, like more mapped-out, makeshift studio shots. “I love classic ‘school photo’ portraits, so I used some of those as a guiding reference,” he says.

Connor Macleod / Jack Kenyon: Miss Ramsgate (Copyright © Connor Macleod /Jack Kenyon, 2024)

At the start of the event Jack gave a small speech explaining the project and inviting the pageant-goers to have their portraits taken. This resulted in an excitable flurry in between each round of judging and “hasty” photo-taking. “To my relief, having this mini studio setup added some excitement for all the carnival courts and everyone was eager to be involved,” says Jack. One of his favourite images from the series resulted from these hurried moments, that of the Junior Dover Town Princess with her eyes closed. “Standing in the makeshift studio is a little bit like staring at the sun which is why she was taking a long blink break,” says Jack. “That photograph has a joyful innocence which makes me chuckle.” As well, the candid nature of the image encapsulates the more modern version of pageantry Miss Ramsgate represents, the focus on fun and enjoyment, rather than the pursuit of ‘perfection’.

The story of Miss Ramgate was much more layered than it might appear, and to capture the richness of its stories and legacy, Jack called upon his friend and talented DOP Connor Macleod to make a short documentary film. “Photographs are wonderful but they struggle with narrative or context,” Jack says. In the film, the pair interview Marion Pearce, who’s been running the court for 33 years. “She’s in her 70s now, so this organisation has been a huge part of her life and I think you can hear that in her voice as she narrates the film,” says Jack. Stylistically, Jack sees Connor’s decision to use 16mm film as the perfect choice – imbuing the whole thing with the sense of nostalgia Marion’s story invokes.

Jack admits that prior to the event he didn’t really know what to expect, and maybe had a slight sense of trepidation. “From a distance, there is a part of this tradition that can feel uncomfortable, akin to a beauty pageant, with values and expectations around women that have changed,” Jack says. Instead, what Jack was met with was an overwhelming sense of community. “The event didn’t feel like it was just about girls in dresses, instead it was largely an excuse for a tight-knit community to spend the evening together.” Overall, Jack left the event with an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia, thinking of times gone by when it was normal to mingle with your neighbours, and the local community centre was a bustling social hub.

GalleryJack Kenyon: Miss Ramsgate (Copyright © Jack Kenyon, 2024)

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Jack Kenyon: Miss Ramsgate (Copyright © Jack Kenyon, 2024)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English Literature and History, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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