A View without Illusion
A Martin Parr photograph is like a painting by William Turner, a sentence written by Thomas Mann, the voice of Frank Sinatra or the scent of Chanel No. 5. Parr’s imagery is so characteristic that we recognize it immediately. And it is strong enough to condition our perception: Once we leave a Parr exhibition, we find that we, too, are viewing the people and objects surrounding us from Parr’s perspective. And suddenly, the Parr cosmos is everywhere.
The Parr cosmos? What does it consist of? Martin Parr takes pictures of people: on the phone, eating, standing in line, people at the grocery store, going to church, relaxing on the beach, tourists, dancers, bird watchers, gamekeepers, bored couples – people, young and old. And Martin Parr photographs objects: prefab houses, for example, whose uniformity carries the monotony of British suburban neighbourhoods to the extreme. Or British living rooms with the ubiquitous floral carpets, wallpapers, curtains, sofas – and the artificial flowers on the television set. Or food: be it sandwiches, sizzling bacon, hot dogs, fish-and-chips, plates of French fries, ice cream, lollypops or iced cupcakes. Parr makes them seem artificial, unappetizing.
For more than thirty years, Martin Parr has recorded life and society, mostly of his homeland, Britain. In his early black-and-white works, people and landscapes still possessed a sentimental, nostalgic flair. In the 1980s, however, he began working in color, and his focus eventually lost all softness. Today, Parr is mainly interested in objects or the details of people’s appearances – a grinning mouth, polished nails – which he depicts in a garish, exposing way.
Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic is a rather apt description of the photographer Martin Parr. He shows us the world as it is, not as it is meant to be. The morality of Parr’s bleak, sober view of society, customs and traditions is debatable. His position is like that of a doctor who diagnoses an illness without offering an appropriate remedy. Probably because he is infected, too.
born in Epsom, Surrey, UK
studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic
became a full member of Magnum Photos
appointed Professor of Photography at The University of Wales
guest Artistic Director for Rencontres d’Arles
lives and works in Bristol and London