Iconic Photos

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The Last Resort, Martin Parr

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No single photoproject in the last 30 years appalled more people nor revealed more about the sensibilities of that bygone era than Martin Parr’s The Last Resort

A casual visitor admiring Martin Parr’s colorful photos of fat, lethargic, and relaxed British vacationers on New Brighton would never understand the controversy and critical derision that surrounded them when they were first displayed in 1986. Even today, one might be tempted to dismiss the controversy as a peculiar and parochial moment rather than a defining watershed for British photography.

In Parr’s eyes, England is not just a nation of surly shopkeepers …

The shock it delivered registered on many different levels. Fans of black-and-white social documentary photography disliked the bright beach scenes shot with medium-format color film. The images of overweight and sunburnt people surrounded by screaming and shooting children on cluttered beaches, eating repulsive looking food, and wearing mismatched clothes held up an ugly mirror to class-conscious Britain. Art critic David Lee criticized Parr for his patronizing and exploitative view of the working class:

[Parr] has habitually discovered visitors at their worst, greedily eating and drinking junk food and discarding containers and wrappers with an abandon likely to send a liberal conscience into paroxysms of sanctimony. Our historic working class, normally dealt with generously by documentary photographers, becomes a sitting duck for a more sophisticated audience. They appear fat, simple, styleless, tediously conformist and unable to assert any individual identity. They wear cheap flashy clothes and in true conservative fashion are resigned to their meager lot. Only babies and children survive ridicule and it is their inclusion in many pictures which gives Parr’s acerbic vision of hopelessness its poetic touch.

… but that of white trash, dilapidation, and rampant babies.

Robert Morris wrote in the British Journal of Photography, “This is a clammy, claustrophobic nightmare world where people lie knee-deep in chip papers, swim in polluted black pools, and stare at a bleak horizon of urban dereliction.” Now, some 26 years later, to this author at least, the controversy said as much about sensitivities of the time as about Parr’s style. The photographer himself would agreed; Parr said, “I was rather surprised there was a controversy. It didn’t seem to me to be a controversial subject. It was a rundown seaside resort in Britain. What’s the surprise in that?”

Three years after The Last Resort, Parr moved to Bristol and began the project that would later be published as The Cost of Living. There he poked fun at that other extreme of Thatcherite Britain – the yuppie hell of consumer-crazy, horribly perfect, starched-shirt and floral-dress brigades.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 27, 2012 at 7:04 pm

12 Responses

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  1. Thanks for this – just to make you aware that Parr’s work was in NEW Brighton in Birkenhead, North West of the UK, not Brighton near Londo.

    Si Barber

    March 2, 2012 at 9:55 pm

  2. *London!

    Si Barber

    March 2, 2012 at 9:56 pm

  3. i know that’s this is London bridge …

  4. [...] images from The Last Resortcollection cast a critical view on the tatty and run down yet extremely popular holiday resort of [...]

  5. Reblogged this on Stephen Dyer Photography.

    stephendyerphotographer

    March 8, 2013 at 7:45 pm

  6. […] However New Brighton gained a degree of notoriety in the 1980s with the publication of Martin Parr’s ‘The Last Resort’. Controversial, in your face and unflinchingly honest, the book is now considered a classic. A mark […]

  7. Reblogged this on Photography/Film and commented:
    Very interesting article about Martin Parr’s controversial style and analysis by art critics.

    bayramgozlugol

    January 27, 2014 at 3:58 pm

  8. […] Quintessential, 2012,  The Last Resort, Martin Parr, Iconic Photos [Online]. Available at:  http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/the-last-resort-martin-parr [Accessed 17 February […]

    Martin Parr | Xiaoming Yu

    February 17, 2014 at 11:35 pm

  9. Reblogged this on Hello from me to you.

    hello from me to you

    April 6, 2014 at 1:06 pm

  10. Personally I love these pictures, they remind me of my childhood and bringing up my kids. I drag my kids to some pretty grim places but we see something in them and make the most of what we have then we often eat a wired colored ice cream or scoff some cheesy chips. I also see my family in his more middle class collections, Martin Parr isn’t prejudiced, he sees the ridiculous and grotesque in everyone, at least he’s fair. Nobody minds exploiting people’s faces in war torn countries of peeping and some native tribe so why not peep at the native tribes in our own back yard because get out the magnifying glass and we see stuff we don’t like.

    This man inspired me to make the everyday look seriously wired and people love it, life is odd and dysfunctional, let’s take pictures and make it look as odd as it feels. My son does the same thing, together we made a Devon beauty spot look like the end of the world, and sometimes it feels like it.

    Exsugarbabe (@Exsugarbabe)

    August 17, 2014 at 4:23 pm


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