Art: Martin Parr – Only Human

Hi everyone!

I hope you are well and enjoying a positive week so far. This Thursday’s art instalment on the Pineapple Chicken Blog is on the latest exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (“NPG”); Martin Parr – Only Human. I am a big fan of photography, this is why I started taking photos several years ago. Though I am still very much an amateur and lately I have been too lazy to carry my gear around – my favourite photography style continues to be street photography and portraiture.

NPG is somewhere I go back to time and time again because they always have great photography exhibitions (also a worthy mention is the Barbican Centre).  The Martin Parr: Only Human exhibition was another great opportunity to broaden my horizons and see the works of another artist to inspire my own photography. The exhibition is available until 27th May 2019 and costs £18 per adult or half price with the Art Pass. If you are under 25, the exhibition is only of £5 every Friday! (when the gallery is open until 9 pm.)

After Don McCullin’s exhibition at Tate Britain, I realised that I do not know many British photographers and as usual I walk into this exhibition not knowing very much about Parr. I think I should start a project on iconic British photographers, what do you think?  

Martin Parr

He is a British photojournalist and is one of the “best known” (oops!) and “most widely celebrate photographers”.  He is known for his satirical and anthropological look of modern life, in particular documenting social classes in Britain and exploring British identity. 

He seems to live and breathe photography (which is awesome). According to Wikipedia, he wanted to be a documentary photographer at the young age of 14 and went on to study photography at Manchester Polytechnic. After that, it seems like nothing could stop him. He is a prolific photographer and by just doing a quick search on Amazon you will quickly find a vast number of published photobooks by him. On my to buy list is “Small World”, which I had a quick flick through at the exhibition shop. The book is a portfolio of photos he took internationally as a critique of mass tourism. Considering that I love to travel, I thought would be good to have this in my collection 🙂

Only Human

Only Human exhibition captured a different perspective on everyday lives. The exhibition was surprisingly large and took an hour to walk around. Each room was individually themed with appropriate props and walls painted in very vibrant colours. For example, there was a room with photos of people dancing had a giant the disco ball in it. One of my favourite rooms was the room with beach photography, where one of his photos was used as a wallpaper and the adjacent walls in a shade of bright yellow, and just a deck chair in the middle.  What was most surreal was in the middle of the exhibition there is a room converted to a “greasy cafe” (which I grew up with in London) where you can order cakes and teas that were stereotypical of “English” tradition. 

Parr has an amazing eye for capturing humorous moments, making his photos inquisitive and engaging. There were some that just made me laugh, particularly his collection of self-portraits when he travelled, taken by the typical “tourist trap” photos in traditional gear and/or with weird backdrops.

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For his own photos, he uses vibrant (close to being slightly oversaturated) colours which reminded me of William Eggleston’s photography. Coincidentally, I saw back his exhibition back in 2016 at the NPG as well. Eggleston’s photos are more ethereal/whimsical, I think Parr’s photos have more of an edge to them. For many of his photos, they may look humorous but as you look a little longer, you realise there is more than meets the eye such as inequality, his photos are not critical, but they definitely brush being “political”.

Parr travels around Britain to try and capture what it means to be British, and of course, includes the hot topic – Brexit in the final room of the exhibition. I really enjoyed the photography in this room, because for me as a British born Chinese living in London, there is no one “look” for being British. I laugh at some of the sensibilities and traditions but recognise that a lot of being “British” is very much part of who I am too. One of his photos, though simple, captured two Muslim girls working behind the counter of a traditional Fish and Chip shop.  

This struck a chord with me because, to me, this is true Britain and how I see my home – a multicultural society. I grew up with my parents running a fish and chip shop and my uncle running a stereotypical Chinese Restaurant (with little lanterns and fortune cookies), but now I work in the City of London and my sister works in a startup in Covent Garden. There really is no template. Don’t get me wrong, we have SOOOO many issues, as captured Parr’s photos exploring how Upper-Class White Males still run many of our institutions – “The Establishment”, but I appreciate that Parr explored this and encourage debate about this.

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3.75 out of 5 Pineapples

I enjoyed the exhibition and the topics it covered but, overall, I was not particularly blown away by Parr’s photography, so if you aren’t really into street photography, you may not enjoy this. For those who would like a deeper understanding of everyday Britain, I think it is worth giving it a go. 

Are any of you familiar with his photography? Who is your favourite photographer? As always, I would love to hear from you!

With Sweet & Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

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