The Jeu de Paume in Paris is hosting an exhilarating show featuring the personal collection of Martin Parr along with some of his own series of photographs. Parrworld. The Collection of Martin Parr mixes the everyday absurdities the photographer sees in every aspect of our society with a wonderful taste for contemporary photography and an unusual empathy for the scenes and people he portrayed in “The Guardian Cities Project.”
Martin Parr, image from a project documenting the beach culture of South America
Parr is admired all over the world for his ‘subjective documentary approach’ but that doesn’t mean that everyone is ready to swoon for his satire. However, the Parrworld exhibition shows a side of the photographer that might win over some of the detractors who accuse him of being heartless, superficial and cynical. For once in an exhibition dedicated to the photographer, the ludicrous side of consumer culture, mass tourism, family and British way of living that his work illustrates is taking second stage. There’s a lot of farce in the knickknack he’s been amassing for decades but there’s also a real respect for the subjects he snaps in The Gardian’s series and his collection of prints from British and international photographers can hardly be regarded as casual and inconsequential. I’ll actually dedicate another post to those. But let’s start with the objects, books and postcards Parr collects.
Parr started to compile postcards thirty years ago. His collection includes studio portraits, tasteless vacation postcards and curiosities, such as ‘boring postcards’ depicting motorways, prefabricated buildings and interiors of airplanes. He is particularly keen on collecting the garish postcards made between the 1950s and 1970s by John Hinde studio.
Limbo! Limbo! Postcard. Collection Martin Parr. © John Hinde Ltd
Collection Martin Parr
The amazing heap of objects the curators and Parr arranged thematically in the exhibition space includes souvenirs from the Soviet ‘Sputnik era’, original posters and leaflets from the 1984 UK miners strike, commemorative china from Maggie Thatcher’s reign, Spice Girls’ biscuits and chocolates, a prayer mat featuring the Twin Towers, Saddam Hussein’s clocks and watches and some new Barack Obama ephemera. They might be as weird as you get but the objects selected in this wunderkammer represent events that have shaped our collective memory because of their presence in the media.
PARRWORLD OBJECTS. 2008. Tray with photo print. Martin Parr Collection.
Saddam Hussein Wrist watch. Martin Parr Collection.
This collection of quirky, tacky and curious objects intimately ties Parr up with those sublimely ridiculous people he portrays in his photo series. Parr was already a world-famous artist. Now he is also an eccentric Englishman who collects the kitschiest objects he can get his hands on.
Image via BALTIC where Parrworld opens in October
Parr’s unique collection of national and international books on photography covers the history of photography books, from icons in book art to publications by obscure publishing houses. Featured in Parr and Garry Badger’s publication of their two volumes of ‘The Photobook – A History’, these books have become collector’s items.
But Parrworld is also showcasing some of Parr’s own work. Several rooms are filled with prints from ‘Luxury’. This brand new series depicts wealth in the western world, or rather the way the affluent proudly show off their new-found fortune. The photographer has selected locations where the international jet-set is comfortable splashing out its wealth: the Millionaires’ Fair in Moscow, the Basel Art Fair in Miami, the Dubai Art Fair, Munich’s Oktoberfest, the Chantilly racetracks and the Motor Show in Beijing.
This focus on the international upper class completes Parr’s earlier projects on the working and middle classes. The photographer wrote: Traditionally the portrayal of poverty has been the domain of the “concerned photographer”, but I photograph wealth in the same spirit. When the new emerging middle classes demand and receive the luxury goods that so many of us take for granted, it will put considerable pressure on the world’s resources. We are seeing the first manifestations of this: soaring oil prices brought on in part by exceptional demand from China and India; food prices escalating as crops are diverted into biofuels.
Martin Parr, USA. Hollywood. Attendees at a charity function, 2000. From the series “Luxury”. © Martin Parr, Magnum Photos / Kamel Mennour
Martin Parr, Ascot. 2003. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos
My favourite part of the show was Parr’s photographs of 10 UK cities, commissioned by the newspaper for The Guardian Cities Project. The photographs, published in special pull-out sections of the newspaper, reveal a real tenderness and an empathy with their subjects which one isn’t used to witness in Parr’s other projects.
Martin Parr, Brighton: David Sawyers, member of the Brighton sea swimming club, some of whose members swim in the sea all year round. David is disabled and loves his swimming, where he can experience total freedom both physically and mentally
Martin Parr, Cambridge. H Gee Electrical Shop, Mill Road. This wonderful shop is run by Priscilla oldstein and her son Philip. As well as all the electrical components you could possibly want, you also have BBC Radio 4 on full volume, and of course, a leisurely chat with the proprietors
Martin Parr, Edinburgh: Scotmid supermarket, Leith. This independent Scottish co-operative has 130 food stores and is one of the country’s biggest employers