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  • Writer's pictureMark Heathcote

Following Martin Parr in New Brighton

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

My first ever (proper) photo book was The Last Resort by Martin Parr. This book inspired me with its colour, its composition, and its reflection on life in the New Brighton seaside resort in the early 1980s. For many years now I held a desire to visit the resort to see how it had changed and to retrace Martin's footsteps. So, with a trip up north planned with our campervan, I made a detour to spend 12 hours shooting in New Brighton.


I was very unlikely to get anything amazing in one visit, plus it was out of season and a Thursday, but the weather forecast was good (albeit cloudy), and my Leica M10 was ready to go. The mission was to locate some of the iconic photographs in the book, but of course also to shoot the

surrounding area for my own projects.


My initial research highlighted that Parr had used a medium-format Plaubel Makina rangefinder 6x7cm camera for the book. This was used in combination with daytime flash. I am unsure of the lens, but the images look roughly 28mm equivalent lens on my full frame Leica. Of course my image ratio will be 3x2 rather than 6x7 so things will be far from an exact match.

Original cover image. Photograph by Martin Parr, courtesy of Magnum Photos

Starting from the cover of the book, I identified the location of the lighthouse (in the background) easily enough using Google Earth and was able to track to the right position. A good start, albeit with nothing much happening at the scene. I would return here throughout the day hoping to get a special moment but alas the photography gods were on holiday. This became the pattern of my visit, keep revisiting the same scenes hoping to strike gold.


Cover photo location - note the lighthouse and paving unchanged - 2023

Reviewing my image it is apparent that Martin was lower to the ground, despite me crouching already - I suspect he was holding the camera low and shooting without looking. Look how the low bumper of the car is clearly in frame. A good lesson and reminder.

New Brighton Baths

The book contains a number of images from the New Brighton "Baths"; if you are familiar with the book then the following historical photograph will look vaguely familiar (pages 27, 29, 37, 43, 45, 48, 49). Get the book here if you don't have it.

New Brighton Baths - Historical photograph

The background of one such photograph (page 49) shows a church spire, a row of chimneys and a dome church roof which I was able to find in Google Earth and trace backwards. As I suspected, the Baths no longer exist and a supermarket has been build on the site.


Zoomed in Page 49 - spire and dome clues - Original by Martin Parr
new brighton
Google Earth view - note the spire and the dome as per page 49. Supermarket in foreground.

With no success possible at The Baths, except to get my weekly shop, I continued, looking for the location of a particular "Amusement Arcade" (page 19) and came across "Maddie". Not only did Maddie tell me that the bandstand (page 63) was in Vale Park (albeit inaccessible except during events) but she also thought that she recognised some photographs being in an old Bingo hall that she would sneak off to as a child (also now demolished), but she couldn't be 100% sure.

As close as I could get, shot through a fence while holding an reference image from the book.

Google Earth view - the Band Stand in Vale Park (p63) - only accessible during events.

It turned out that Maddie's father "Paddie" was in the book along with his dog. Maddie went on to tell me that that the chip shop and ice cream shop on pages 53 and 55 were part of the Baths, and hence are also now gone. It was lovely chatting to you Maddie, thank you.

"Maddie" pointing out her father "Paddie"

This still left a number of other images that I could easily trace. The fort is still in place, though the frontage leading up to it has changed. Everything looks a lot tidier than it did in the 80s, though rubbish still gathers into the same corners when blown by the wind. Of course, I was not visiting in peak holiday season, so things may look a lot different during the summer.


Next though, I went looking for another of the shelters that featured in the book. This one was easy except that no-one sat there all day. Eventually I had at least someone to include in shot with some sort of gesture.

martin parr
Original photograph by Martin Parr (early 1980s) - The location still exists. Courtesy of Magnum Photos
Same view of the shelter - 2023. Photograph by Mark Heathcote.

After locating and photographing the location of the shelter, I noticed that Martin's frame is tilted. I never noticed that before despite seeing this image many many times. We are so precious these days about getting horizons straight and verticals vertical that we forget that a good photograph will work regardless (and sight tilt can add some subtle tension). This only became apparent to me when comparing it to my own image from the same location. I had taken care to keep it level but had to rotate slightly to reflect the tilt on the original.


I also found it impossible to replicate the original angle without the 2nd support post being in shot. This suggests to me that he had a slightly wider lens than my 28mm and probably a step forward from my position. It turns out that the women here is the same women that was sitting there in the original photograph. How amazing is that? Well, it would be if it were true but I just made it up. I did ask them though, just in case. I think they thought I was a bit odd. I did think there was a slight resemblance.

Fort Perch
Changed frontage to Fort Perch
Fort Perch behind, looking inland

Moving on to Fort Perch Rock, whilst stunningly composed, Martin's photographs again highlighted the rubbish present. I chatted to a guy that was phishing out rubbish with a net and it turns out that the offshore winds blow any and all rubbish into very specific locations. I did write his name down but lost it - I am such an amateur.

Rubbish still gathers when blown by the wind into corners

The inclusion of so much rubbish in the book was probably deliberate on Martin's part I think - whilst some may disagree with the impression that this creates, it shows me that he was shooting with a specific purpose / message in mind rather than just shooting scenes for the sake of it. This is a trap I often fall into unless I am careful. I must remain focused, look for a unique angle and not just shoot aimlessly.


On this occasion though, I was shooting for fun, in limited time, so no apologies for the lack of deep and meaningful message in my collection of images.

Fort Perch - Original photograph by Martin Parr
Fort Perch - Original photograph by Martin Parr, courtesy of Magnum Photos
Same view of Fort Perch rock - note the redevelopment of the frontage leading up - 2023

Ultimately, I had a great day out, an interesting treasure hunt, insight into Martin Parr's thought process, and a collected a few images of my own. A short selection of my photographs from the day can be found below as a slideshow, but here is a taster:

Photograph by Mark Heathcote 2023


I highly recommend that you get the book The Last Resort for lots of reasons, but ultimately it is just a joy to look at the images. It will also be apparent why it was controversial at the time. You can also see here a related article by Magnum Photos - Revisiting Martin Parr’s Last Resort.


If you like my work, check out my Brighton project shot during Covid lockdown.


If you are looking to improve your photography then I can highly recommend the Magnum workshops. Don't forget though that I also run workshops, having studied under the likes of Matt Black (Magnum), Dougie Wallace, and David Gibson. If you are interested, please get in touch.


See my other articles for technique analysis, old photograph locations, and street photography tips.

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