Martin Parr’s New Brighton: Atrophy and Icecream

IN: (May 28, 2020)In Focus

New Brighton, from ‘The Last Resort’, 1983-85

New Brighton, from ‘The Last Resort’, 1983-85 Martin Parr

New Brighton, from ‘The Last Resort’, 1983-85

Food is the single universifying factor that unites us all while on holiday. It defines the very social fabric of leisure, be it tasting the local delicacies on offer, discovering a well-hidden restaurant, tactically grocery shopping to keep bellies full for a week, or frantically putting together a packed lunch for a day of activities ahead. Food is the very substance that brings people together. For children, it is social fodder. It can be bargained, swapped, and fought over with the vicious belief that nothing will ever taste good again unless you get your hands on that ready salted packet of crisps. For adults it is a conversation starter, an activity which defines the evening’s entertainment. With it comes the opportunity to boast financial wealth, treat loved ones, and indulge in luxury.

Indeed, references of food remain subtly ingrained throughout Martin Parr’s series The Last Resort (1983-1985). From a young baby guzzling a can of coke, to fish-and-chip wrappers strewn across concrete, and of course, the slurping sweet stickiness of ice-cream. Synonymous with the seaside, ice-cream appears in many of Parr’s photographs. In this untitled image from The Last Resort, a group of children are seen bustling behind a counter hoping to buy themselves an icy treat. Instead of attending to her customers, the young girl serving the food turns to face Parr and his camera, locking the lens in a somewhat confrontational glare. Stacks of cones sit on a table beside her, complete with syrupy stains from previous hurried transactions. Although there is no orderly queue, a shirtless boy stands closer and taller than his contemporaries, a crumpled five pound note and three ice-creams overflowing in his hands. The rest of the group buzz with an uncontained energy, their faces red and sweaty, their gnawing stomachs aching for satiation.

The colour of the ice-creams held by the children, a lurid neon green, causes the food to appear inedible, somehow toxic. This is emphasised by the coordination between the ice-cream and the interior decoration, decked out in garish bluey-greens. In a perverse fashion, the green ice-creams become part of the room’s furniture, appearing surreal and sinister, perhaps poisonous. In many ways, the unappealing ice-cream uncovers the reality of New Brighton’s crumbling seaside town which was slowly falling into disrepair, and the simmering political unrest of the time. So too, The Last Resort represents the resilience of northern England during the 1980s, by exploring and celebrating universal experiences and a shared connection with food

(By Eleanor Lerman)

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