Review: New Brighton Revisited – Martin Parr, Ken Grant, Tom Wood

Review: New Brighton revisited

Words, Kathy Wainwright

A room with a view, and not just of the ever popular beach. The Sailing School at Marine Point hosts the internationally renowned British photographers Martin Parr, Ken Grant and Tom Wood as they revisit their own time spent working, living and photographing their surroundings.

Walking around the rooms you get a feel of how difficult it was to find a spare bench; or how long you would have to wait in a queue to get a hot dog; or use the loo; or anything really. There’s something very English about the lengths we go to, even on the warmest of days, just to get a cuppa.

But then again, has anything really changed? The car park was completely full on the day we visited, with cars parked in the most awkward of spaces. You could almost hear the drivers saying ‘it’s not perfect, but that’ll do’ as they parked across the exit.

This beach has not lost any of its popularity since the days of the photographs. There may be a few less people willing to bare all on the sand and bake in the sun, but as times inevitably change, so do our priorities. We are reminded of this as we walk up to the sailing school, crossing the bridge where parents pretend to fish with their children, by a huge plastic bottle elevated over the water. Lulu Quinn’s Message in a Bottle reminding us that plastic is dangerous and has no place in our water.

Everyone can understand how important recycling is now, but it may not have always been so commonplace. With pieces like Message in a Bottle encouraging and prompting our everyday decisions, it’s a shame that you still see over flowing bins and discarded bags full of rubbish littered along the street… In one photograph that stuck with me, you see an older couple who have found a rare empty seat, perched on the end having their lunch surrounded by a sea of litter left by the previous dwellers; this is prime real-estate, a much sought after haven of solitude for the weary day-outers.

What makes this exhibition so popular is the reality of the photographs. Each one a snapshot in time, showing fashions and human behaviour when we think no one is watching. Many of these photographs may have been taken unawares but there something beautifully natural about an un-staged shot, no matter how much tomato sauce is smeared all over it.

People visiting the exhibition might find a friend or even be fortunate enough to actually feature in the work. But that strong nostalgic bond to the images, remembering the era and feeling of a bustling promenade making comments like ‘state of what we wore!’ extends to anyone. Even the unrelated viewer is introduced to their, possibly, home town, in a whole new light with old buildings in the backdrop and hairstyles of bygone times.

My mum has told me stories about her hardworking dad who would, at every available opportunity, take the family on days out in the motorbike and sidecar, probably to spots like this. It doesn’t matter when you started your relationship with New Brighton, or even if this is your first visit, you can see something of yourself, or someone you know in New Brighton Revisited.