Martin Parr's, The Last Resort is an amazing insight into a place and people enjoying their leisure time in the coastal town of New Brighton during 1985/86. The first few images are a gentle lead-in with a smartly dressed old couple waiting for their meal in a tired but respectable looking cafe that looks as if it hasn't changed since the 40s. Then, an image of a seafront shelter with a pane of broken glass - hinting at the usual decline that can be seen in British seaside towns. But as I began to turn the pages the full on grossness of holiday makers trying to enjoy their day, surrounded by discarded chip packets and overflowing waste bins, is a bit of a shock. I found it difficult not to be repulsed - at first.
The images are full of saturated primary colours. This means that anything plastic or commercially produced, such as colourful wrappers, bathing costumes, lipstick, seems to stand out from the page. The amount of litter is extreme. The images of children or people with their feet in water that has a floating scum of garbage are revolting but fascinating. In his introduction to the book, Gerry Badger states that, "all the children in the images appear happy". I didn't see this myself. Some of them are crying and they and most of the other people in bathing costumes look like uncooked meat that is about to get a roasting from a relentless sun. I'm sure flash photography of some sort has enhanced this effect. The mass of exposed skin in many of the images to me looks designed to be unflattering. The images portray a marked amount of consumption of crisps, cans of coke, chocolate and chips. Is this intentional? Are we supposed to be appalled at the constant chewing and chomping? I guess the answer would be that the photographer is just recording what he sees. Of course, by now, we all know the falseness of this statement.
Once over the shock though, and after a read of the foreword by Gerry Badger, I can see beyond the awfulness to notice that the people are making the best of the situation that they find themselves in. It is not their fault that the rubbish bins are over flowing with refuse. They just haven't been emptied frequently enough for the amount of visitors that day. It has been stated in the introduction that the book is more a comment about the growth of mass consumerism under the Thatcher years than a criticism of a people that are forced to live in that society. It's true. The people in the images didn't make that society - they just had to live in it. A fake dream of a better life, consisting of cheap goods sold to us by advertisers working for big corporations - wanting us to consume to excess for their profit. A society that we are all now too familiar with.