Martin Parr is a British photographer (born 1952) who is mainly known for his images of the British public, shown with loud, brash colours and often very satirical in nature. On his website they are described as ‘exaggerated or even grotesque. The motifs he chooses are strange, the colours are garish and the perspectives are unusual (Weski, 2019). He has looked at the way we live over the years, ranging from images of socialites, to people on the beach in various states of dress, via food and the Grand National racing events. Many of his images are not ‘pretty’ – he shows things as they are, rather then as we would like to think they are. He has published a plethora of books of his own images, his website lists 121 since 1982, together with many others he has edited and is a renowned collector of other people’s photo-books.
Although we tend to think of him as a British (or mainly English) photographer he has travelled and taken images (and produced books of those images) across the world, from Benidorm to Belfast, India to Italy and also Japan. Japonais Endormis (Japanese Asleep) (Parr, 1998) is a collection of images taken on the Tokyo subway of sleeping commuters.
These salarymen (and women) often travel for long hours every day, to and from work. Parr has taken images looking down on them. They are clearly not aware that he is taking their picture and are vulnerable in the moment. The sharpest focal point of the image is usually the hair, their eyes are closed, they look exhausted. Although his website describes his style as garish and often grotesque, in this case the images are tender, and he appears to have sympathy with their unending need to travel (and sleep while travelling. This is not echoed in the images of Japanese people shown in The Phone Book (2002) (Parr, 2002) which shows people on their mobile phones, also seemingly unaware that they are being watched, let alone photographed. Here he returns to his more usual brash colours and aggressive imagery.
One of the themes Parr has returned to on many occasions is the multitude of people who take pictures of themselves at historic sites. He has dwelt on this theme for many years, and one of his recent projects returns to this topic. Parr was one of five artists who were commissioned by the Palace of Versailles to make work that echoed its spirit and took images of others taking images (Pegard, 2019) Parr has discussed this at some length in his blog (Parr, 2012) but ends up admitting that, of course, he is doing exactly the same thing. He does, however, turn is upside down by photographing the people who are taking the photos of themselves.
Parr’s images are often fascinating and have opened the way for other photographers to take less reverent images and also to have a sense of humour in their work. I found the Japanese Sleepers collection to be both telling and touching about a way of life I know little about. It is a very human piece of work.
Parr, M. (1998). Martin Parr: Japonais endormis = 眠る日本人. Paris: Published by Galerie Du Jour Agnès B.
Parr, M. (2002). The Phone Book: 1998-2002. London, Eng.: Rocket; Essen, Germany.
Parr, M. (2012). Too Much Photography | Martin Parr. [online] Martinparr.com. Available at: https://www.martinparr.com/2012/too-much-photography/ [Accessed 27 Sep. 2019].
Pégard, C. (2019). Versailles, Visible invisible: Dove Allouche, Nan Goldin, Martin Parr, Eric Poitevin, Viviane Sassen : [exposition, Versailles, Château de Versailles, Domaine du Trianon, 14 mai-20 octobre 2019]. Paris: Éditions Dilecta, Dl.
Weski, T. (2019). Introduction | Martin Parr. [online] Martinparr.com. Available at: https://www.martinparr.com/introduction/.