Artist Spotlight: Martin Parr at SPE National 2013

LONDON—A solicitors’ Christmas party, 1995. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos
I saw this image reproduced as a plate in the Jeu de Paume Museum – the consumer/collector in me wishes I’d bought it! -Erika

This weekend I’ll be in Chicago attending the Society for Photographic Education conference, whose roster of keynote speakers include Magnum Photographer Martin Parr. I have known about Parr’s work since seeing his 2000 series titled Boring, Oregon, a city I drove through many times in the 70s and 80s growing up in Oregon and the butt of many childhood jokes. In a way, I felt like he had “stolen my idea” because his work depicted a place I had pondered pursuing but never had. The work is funny and cynical and brilliant. Hey Mr. Parr, while you’re out stealing my ideas – don’t leave out Drain or Dufur Oregon – okay? Several summers’ ago in Arles, France at the Recontres d’Arles I got to meet Parr and told him about Drain and Dufur. Perhaps at the time, not as inspiring  as the surrounds and beauty of Southern France, but who knows, maybe he’s already been back to work in those little towns (or rather, “blips” off the road). After all, Parr seems to be everywhere.

Iphone autoportrait by Martin Parr with me.
Iphone autoportrait by Martin Parr with me.

Since 2000, I’ve seen his name constantly at Photo festivals and speaking engagements and it seems as if he produces a book a week. A prolific fellow indeed. A particularly favorite show of mine at the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris was his 2009 retrospect “Planet Parr” – full of not only his photographs but also of his own internationally found kitsch objects. (see video below) A favorite on view was his Saddam Hussein wrist watches and what was then his latest photographic work Luxury (above). This week, I’ll hear him speak at the 50th Anniversary celebration of SPE – and look forward to finding out whether or not he’ll choose to reflect on the theme of this years’ conference or go in a different direction. In any case – I’m excited to see new presentations and old friends and colleagues very soon – Abientôt and cheers!

Thomas Weski of the Jeu de Paume in Paris, France describes Parr as “…a chronicler of our age. In the face of the constantly growing flood of images released by the media, his photographs offer us the opportunity to see the world from his unique perspective.

At first glance, his photographs seem exaggerated or even grotesque. The motifs he chooses are strange, the colours are garish and the perspectives are unusual. Parr’s term for the overwhelming power of published images is “propaganda”. He counters this propaganda with his own chosen weapons: criticism, seduction and humour. As a result, his photographs are original and entertaining, accessible and understandable. But at the same time they show us in a penetrating way how we live, how we present ourselves to others, and what we value.

Leisure, consumption and communication are the concepts that this British photographer has been researching for several decades now on his worldwide travels. In the process, he examines national characteristics and international phenomena to find out how valid they are as symbols that will help future generations to understand our cultural peculiarities. Parr enables us to see things that have seemed familiar to us in a completely new way. In this way he creates his own image of society, which allows us to combine an analysis of the visible signs of globalisation with unusual visual experiences. In his photos, Parr juxtaposes specific images with universal ones without resolving the contradictions. Individual characteristics are accepted and eccentricities are treasured.

The themes Parr selects and his inimitable treatment of them set him apart as a photographer whose work involves the creation of extensive series. Part of his unusual strategy is to present and publish the same photos in the context of art photography, in exhibitions and in art books, as well as in the related fields of advertising and journalism. In this way, he transcends the traditional separation of the different types of photography. Thanks to this integrative approach, as well as his style and his choice of themes, he has long served as a model for the younger generation of photographers.

Martin Parr sensitises our subconscious – and once we’ve seen his photographs, we keep on discovering these images over and over again in our daily lives and recognising ourselves within them. The humour in these photographs makes us laugh at ourselves, with a sense of recognition and release.”

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