Toby Coulson’s first film celebrates Britain’s older generations and the pleasures of dance

Meet Fred, our charming protagonist who takes us back to the time of “the best crooners, best musicals, best dancing, best live bands”.

9 April 2021
Reading Time
3 minutes


Last year we met the London-based photographer Toby Coulson, who introduced us to his way of capturing humour, beauty and strangeness in everyday interactions. It was a whistle-stop tour around the world from The Alps to Namibia, Bahrain and British suburbia, but now, Toby is back with a wholly different kind of project. In his first film titled A Feeling of Pleasure, Toby documents a man called Fred, someone he’s been photographing for years.

Told in the first person, Fred looks back on his life stretching back to the 20s – one that often featured dancing, a significant pleasure of his. “We were living in the time of the best crooners, best musicals, best dancing, best live bands to dance to,” Fred says in the film, “and I look back and think how lucky we were.” Toby, who is familiar with Fred and his dancing pals in Newhaven, has always enjoyed sharing “amazing conversations” with Fred while watching the dancers, and in turn, felt compelled to try and capture it on film.

Producing the two-minute short followed a similar process to Toby’s still photography. Filming in “a very simple way, keeping the camera position static,” the filmmaker wanted to shine as much light as possible on the subjects. He decided to shoot on 16mm film as it harks back, stylistically, to the cameras in the heyday of Fred’s memories. Toby adds: “The performance of having to rewind the camera every 20 seconds added a humour and an awkwardness to our process that had everyone laughing.”


Toby Coulson: A Feeling of Pleasure (Copyright © Toby Coulson, 2021)

The audio, on the other hand, was recorded over long sessions at Fred’s house with cups of tea and biscuits. During one of these sessions, one of Fred’s favourite CDs came on and he broke out into song. Luckily, Toby had his recording equipment and the song, therefore, runs throughout the short. What’s more, the film was shot just before the pandemic, a crucial time when younger family members were forced to reflect on the value of their elders. In this way, A Feeling of Pleasure is a gentle reminder of the joy and knowledge that can be passed down from older generations. Additionally, Toby adds, “it makes me so sad to think there has been no dancing for a year and a lot of people including Fred have had to isolate for most of the time.”

As a photographer, Toby is fascinated by the beauty of the everyday. As he puts it, “the stillness rather than catching the decisive moment.” A Feeling of Pleasure is a moving extension of Toby’s photography, lingering on seemingly insignificant moments which add up to create a bigger picture. If you look closer at the way we interact with the landscape or our own spaces, according to Toby, there are always interesting instances to tease out. And he found this with Fred, in his off-guard sense of humour that the photographer and filmmaker pays tribute to in the two-minute short.

As soon as he is able to, Toby intends to show the film at the dance hall in Newhaven – the very same dance hall featured in the film. “I can’t wait to see their faces, there will be some laughs for sure,” he finally goes on to say. So if you’re in need of a wee laugh, or if you haven’t smiled by yourself in a while, watch this utterly charming film which is short but sweet, and features a jig and a delightful character in Fred.

GalleryToby Coulson: A Feeling of Pleasure (Copyright © Toby Coulson, 2021)

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Toby Coulson: A Feeling of Pleasure (Copyright © Toby Coulson, 2021)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.

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