Rob Bremner: Photographs of 1980s New Brighton

“Sometimes the weather can fool you – ‘Oh we’ll go for a day out’ – and then a really heavy thunderstorm comes out of nowhere in the space of 15 minutes, but that’s just Bank Holidays in England, isn’t it!”, Rob Bremner recalls of his time spent photographing people in New Brighton with fellow photographers Tom Wood and Martin Parr.

Rob Bremner is a British social and documentary photographer born in Wick, a small village in the North of Scotland and in the 1980s He studied photography at Central Park College of Art in Wallasey.

It was whilst studying in Wallasey that Rob became acquainted with celebrated photographers Tom Wood (Looking for Love ) and Martin Parr (The Last Resort ). He would spend his time with Tom and Martin taking photographs around New Brighton. 

“I always remember Martin Parr spotting some family and running across in the rain – standing out in the absolutely pouring rain, getting soaked to his skin, just to get a photograph of them and that’s always going to be my memory of New Brighton, thinking Martin Parr’s an idiot. But, obviously, he’s not an idiot any more!”, Rob continued.

Rob told how he came to be studying photography in Wallasey: “The first college I applied to was Plymouth because that was as far away on the British mainland that you could get from Wick and they turned me down. And then Reading turned me down. Wirral was the only college to accept me, mainly because I didn’t have any O’ levels or anything like that.”

Rob had a bit of an epiphany whilst he was working in a garage as a young man. “My uncle had taken photographs … and I was quite interested. He was an amateur photographer that used to print his own photographs. I was quite interested in how you get an image on to a piece of paper – it seemed like magic when you don’t understand it.”, he said. Rob started a YTS position as a press photographer in Inverness, “I thought, ‘Oh this is for me, you don’t have to start until 10 in the morning!”, he said.

Rob’s love of photography couldn’t be tamed and he wanted to learn more than the YTS scheme could offer. “My boss [at Inverness] was finishing anyway, cos he was going to the National Film School so I couldn’t have gotten kept on [after the YTS finished] or anything like that so I just decided that I wanted to start to read a bit more, cos I realised how stupid I was.

“You know when you’re 17 or whatever, you think, God! You are thick Robert, cos education didn’t matter to me because I’m from a small town and when I left school I got an apprenticeship any way.

“You know that was the way it went. We didn’t really need education here, cos all the businesses are run by locals and as long as you don’t go round stealing or lying or doing anything out of the way, people will give you a job – but it would’ve been a very boring life just staying up in Wick.”

Having done press photography YTS at Inverness, he wanted to widen his horizons. By this stage, his photography loving uncle had died, “I was left all of these books; Time Life editions of books, an entire set of them that had documentary photography that interested me, that and press, newspaper and magazines.”, Rob recalled.

Despite being accepted by Wallasey College of Art, Rob found that conventional college education was not for him. He failed the course because he had such a well defined idea of the kind of photography he wanted to do and he felt that the set projects didn’t lead him to fulfil his ambitions.

On his time at the end of the college course, Rob said, “The examiner came along at the end of two years and told Fred off [the head of photography at the college] for even letting me stay on the course!”

“Doing portraits is a lot easier than going out doing candid work – you know, you stop people and you say excuse me can I take your photograph, get your background right and say ‘stand there and don’t smile’ – the photographs are all gonna turn out OK.”, Rob explained.

“All of the portraits I took [in Wirral] have been God’s gift to me … because if I haven’t had some photos I’d be in a bit of a mess just now! I’m very grateful to everybody that I stopped cos I’m working on a book just now [including the photographs] and I’ve got a guy in LA who wants to do a book as well.”

Rob also took photographs over the water. “When I was working in Everton, because its quite a small community, everybody will be asking ‘Who’s that weird guy asking everybody if he can take their photographs?’ And because I’ll be sitting in the cafe, I’ll speak to people anyway and I’ll speak to people as they’re going along the road and somebody will say, ‘Oh, he’s OK, he’s just a student taking some photographs’ and then once the locals know that, then everybody’s being really kind, cos they all know each other.”

“I never really had [a problem with people allowing me to take their photograph], you know, even just walking through the street, just randomly photographing people – they’re not that bothered – it’s only a photograph, you know, you’re not stealing their souls or anything like that!”, Rob said.

Rob’s next project is to photograph every single person in Liverpool – all 250,000 of them – he’s done the maths! 250 photographs in a morning then to a pub or a cafe in the afternoon, repeat Monday to Friday and have the weekends off – all doable in 5 years. “I’ll probably publish a book and do exhibitions and I’ll probably have to sell a few prints to make a living.”, he said matter of factly.

Hopefully, the sudden English summer rain won’t dampen the chances of completing the project.

Below is a selection of Rob’s photographs of 1980s New Brighton.

You can follow Rob Bremner on Instagram .

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