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Martin Parr

“You can read a lot about a country by looking at its beaches: across cultures, the beach is that rare public space in which all absurdities and quirky national behaviors can be found.” —Martin Parr

He put on a bored face every time he let himself be snapped in colleagues' studios, or with a stuffed baby lion in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, or vanishing into the maw of a shark in Benidorm, Spain. He couldn't have found it easy to suppress a smile. Boredom seems to have had a magical attraction for Parr ever since 1977—1978, when he recorded scenes from small Methodist communities in Yorkshire, and 1981, when he photographed the series Bad Weather. Then he commenced collecting "boring postcards" from the 1930s and 1940s. Subsequently he invested considerable effort in making 468 pictures of all the streets, houses and stores in the town of Boring, Oregon, USA (2000). Another series was devoted solely to bored couples.

His early photographs, distantly reminiscent of Robert Doisneau, occasionally have an ironic undertone, as when the guests at The Mayor of Todmorden's Inaugural Banquet in Yorkshire threaten to stab each other with their forks (1977). The comfy tastelessness of British sitting-rooms and bedrooms has intrigued him from the start.

At 30, Parr turned to color photography, a hurdle he took with ease. In Tupperware Party, Salford, Greater Manchester (1985), the red of the plastic contributed greatly to the tragicomic mood of the scene. From here on, the garish colors of commercial merchandise never let him go. For the series One Day Trip (1983—1986), Parr accompanied fellow Britons on their buying sprees to the supermarkets of Boulogne, France. The mountains of goods piled in teetering shopping carts are a festival of acrid color. A contrast is provided by his shots of families in the age of Margaret Thatcher, on Sunday outings to dingy bathing resorts near Liverpool, where the waste heaps abound.

When in 1995 Parr switched from medium format to 35 mm and used a ring flash in daylight to illuminate every pore of his sitters' faces, his sarcasm and the color temperature of his images reached boiling point. The shrill colors made the banality of the close-ups well-nigh unbearable. In the series Think of England, begun in the late 1990s, he showed his countrymen sunbathing, their bellies either already filled or just being topped off with a greasy bacon sandwich. From aristocratic receptions to snack bars, Parr wended his way through the most diverse of milieus. Benidorm, a tourist grill on the hotellined Costa Blanca firmly in the hands of British tourists, provided Parr with a sunburn red that formed a surreal contrast to the hues of towels and sea. Cheap consumption was paralleled by the cheap laser prints used to reproduce the pictures of Common Sense and other series, which were sent— "ugly, colorful and bright"—touring around the world in dozens of exhibitions.

Excerpt taken from 50 Photographers You Should Know by Peter Stepan


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