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

Art: Don McCullin

Hi Everyone!

https://www.christies.com/features/Don-McCullin-6777-1.aspx

How has your week been so far? Work has been slow for me and the weather has been pretty miserable in London, but I am grateful for some downtime. Moreover, I have something really exciting to look forward to this weekend! This probably also explains why I have mentally checked out at work. My university friend is getting married in Chamonix, France, so I am going to go snowboarding for the first time (last time was about 10 years ago so I will consider myself as a beginner again!) and see some friends that I have not caught up with since I graduated!

Last Sunday, I went to the latest exhibition at Tate Britain – Don McCullin, it will be available until 6th May 2019, for those with an Art Pass, it only costs £9 or £18 for a normal adult ticketI love the Tate group and I think Tate Britain is one of the most beautiful art galleries in London. I highly recommend wandering around the free exhibits if you ever have the time!

Don McCullin

I love photography exhibitions (see my previous post on Diane Arbus) and as I am still working on my own photography, I was excited about this specific exhibition. I did not know much about Don McCullin, so I thought it was a great opportunity for me to learn more about him and see whether his photos would inspire different techniques of my own.

For the past 50 years, he has travelled the world capturing the horrors of wars in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. During this period, he was shot and hit by a bomb in Cambodia; an individual was standing in front of him and took a majority of the shrapnel, unfortunately, the Cambodian male died shortly after. He has been imprisoned, expelled from a country and even had a bounty on his head. I am completely in awe of him – he had the courage and bravery to go where other photographers didn’t and, most importantly, he ensured that every photo he took was with compassion and respect.

He does not want to be known as a “war photographer” – just a photographer. Personally, I think he is much more than this; it really is no surprise that he is so critically acclaimed. He is described as a “legendary” photojournalist or “one of our greatest living photographers. I do not think my words in my post today will do justice in trying to explain how his photos made me feel – “impactful” had been used to describe his photography but I think this is woefully inadequate.  

“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”

Exhibition

The exhibition spans from his first photos that were printed in 1959 that captured the gangs (The Guv’nors) in North London, to most recently, the war in Syria. It is split out into 23 sections and I was very surprised how large the exhibition was, as it highlights McCullin’s extensive experience in capturing key moments in our modern history, in addition to, his more artistic photos of still life and landscapes.

When coming up to the exhibition entrance, note the disclaimer on the side. There are photos of deceased people and extreme starvation. I didn’t pay it too much attention and I thought that I was a tough cookie and could view the exhibition without too many issues. How very wrong I was! I was shocked myself that I could even give an outward display of emotion. Therefore, this is a warning to my readers: the exhibition is not for the faint-hearted, (this is also why I have not shared my favourite photos in the blog) be prepared to be moved to tears, particularly his work on the Biafra war.  My tears reflected McCullin’s astonishing skill as a photographer; he was able to capture emotions or “the moment” that seems to be unparalleled by others. My personal favourites were his portraitures where I found myself captivated by the individual and wanting to know and understand the story behind the photograph. Though the topics were heart-wrenching, McCullin did everything to capture the truth and let the photographs tell the story.

“Photography has given me a life… The very least I could do was try and articulate these stories with as much compassion and clarity as they deserve, with as loud a voice as I could muster. Anything less would be mercenary.”

Given the topics that are covered, it was obviously not an uplifting exhibition, but very much an important one. It was a stark reminder of how terrible we, as humans, can be to each other and it is a topic that we cannot, and should not, shy away from. It is photographers like him that tell the unheard story and forces us to face reality, take action, and learn from the past. One of the best quotes I have heard from a speech summarises this perfectly:

“We seem to be able to all agree on the future, but we always argue about the past” – Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres.

I think that McCullin does just that. His photography is sensitive and poignant. I will revisit this exhibition before it closes in May. I managed to walk through the exhibition in an hour, but it was slightly rushed because I was meeting a friend after. There is a “slide show” nearer the end of the exhibition showing the photography that has been in The Observer and other newspaper outlets, unfortunately, I didn’t manage to sit through that.  I think for the second time around I am going to leave more time so I can enjoy the photos for longer. This is why this exhibition gets 5 out of 5 pineapples.

Have any of you been to the exhibition or have heard of Don McCullin? As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

With Sweet and Sour Love,

Pineapple Chicken x

P.S. for those who want to learn more, there are other great reviews of the exhibitions in the link below: