Martin Parr: Everyday Life is Always Fun
Posted on January 18 2022
In 1986, Martin Parr exhibited “The Last Resort” at the Serpentine Gallery and published a book portraying the working class playing in the run-down seaside town of New Brighton, Merseyside. It is an exhibition that strikes and leaves its mark. There is an element of controversy in his photos, and such element is present in his subsequent works over time. Later he also turned his camera towards the middle class (The Cost of Living, 1989) and more recently towards the establishment (Oxbridge, public schools, Old Bailey etc.). At the beginning of his research he worked in black and white, but in the mid-1980s, just before “The Last Resort”, he switched to color, with formal translations and very vibrant declinations; this after having seen the American exhibitions of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston two photographers taken so seriously that they were invited in those years to exhibit in public museums and the British photographer Peter Mitchell. Parr explores British identity, in every sense, for better or for worse. He probes his forms of entertainment with irony and empathic involvement. His other favorite subjects are food (he made it the protagonist in his images before everyone else, before the arrival of the smartphone) and the ephemeral.
Memories and most of the images, by now, are some of the products of mass tourism, because that is where the new wealth is found, that of the extra money that can be spent on vacation. Within travel, mass tourism phenomena, sporting events, Parr represents reality in its frank appearance, showing things and people as they are and without masking the weak or ridiculous sides. To him reality is in most cases much more engaging than any seductive fiction.
Mauro Zanchi and Sara Benaglia: How do you convey your personal humor through the photographic translation of everyday life? How do you make your irony act in the photographic gesture?
Martin Parr: Daily life is constantly fun, we just don't normally notice it because it's all around us.
How do you turn the cliché into something original and interesting?
By focusing on one small aspect of modern life, I hope the viewer notices the same thing I did.
With extreme honesty you claim to be a tourist among tourists and a consumer in a consumer society. How do you try to expose the hypocrisy of today's society? How do you oil the mechanisms that underlie your way of experiencing photography?
I myself believe in hypocrisy. I do all the things that I criticize in my work. My big project is what the rich middle classes do in their spare time, and that includes me.
We are interested in learning more about some formal aspects of your work: the saturated colors of the images, the raw grain of the film.
Half of the photos in the Camera exhibition are digital, the other half are analog. If you shoot color negative with flash, you get these very saturated colors, so this has become my palette, and I've extended it to my digital palette. I am attracted to bright colors. I use the flash even in daylight. It keeps the colors more intense, which I like.
The flash does not give you emotional images, it opens everything, so it is perfect for a forensic point of view, which suits me a lot.
How do you manage not to let your critics lock you into a category, a definition or a one-way research? How do you try to get out of any categorization of your style?
I have many critics, but also many people who support my work. It is always strange to me that my work is so controversial, as it is all taken locally, and doesn’t regard difficult topics, such as wars or famines.
From the controversies raised by your photographs within British society in the 1980s to the present day, your gaze has witnessed many steps within the progression of historical time, where various processes of globalization have taken shape. What future do you imagine for the new generations?
The priorities are always changing. Twenty years ago no one was really talking about climate change and now it's the number one topic. I think attention to this cause will be the big item on the agenda for years to come.
What value do you give to the sense of kitsch (in a creative way)?
Kitsch is all around us, as most people think they have good taste and everyone else is kitsch. It is a hypocrisy that I love!
I have always argued that we define who we are by what we do in our free time. My big life project is the free time of the western world, and tennis and sports added to all that.
Sports are a recurring theme in your long artistic career. What does this sort of collective ritual represent for you and how do you bring it into your photographs?
I have always enjoyed photographing sports, especially the crowds, large and small, and how they arrange themselves.
What did you capture in the world of horse racing, a game particularly loved by the British, to which you have dedicated a lot of photographic shots?
Horse racing is my favorite among all sports, especially because everyone dresses well: the men in their clothes and the women with elegant hats. This is always a good starting point for taking pictures.
There are more and more photos to be taken, it has taken about 50 years to accumulate about 100 good photos, so if you take more than 2 per year, you are doing very well.