With the uncertainties of what a Brexit Britain will look like, the recently unveiled Martin Parr exhibition at Firstsite in Colchester portrays British life as we’ve known it to-date.
Martin Parr’s ‘Work and Leisure’ exhibition comprising of more than 300 photographs spanning the last 40 years encompasses the heart of Britain’s culture and history. Interestingly a collection of his photos document the underbelly of British life before Brexit and visually acknowledges the end of an era. At the time of documenting these photos little did Parr know of the decision that would be made on 23 rd June 2016. Ironically the collection includes a photographical documentary of high society and political social gatherings. The feelings that these pictures evoke could arguably be similar to those of the vote ‘out’ party.
Master of the mundane, Parr’s typically unapologetic and somewhat inappropriate photography oozes satirical tones and invites the public to stare the bare bones of British culture right in the face. His honest representations encourage us to reflect on how far our society has come.
‘The Last Resort’ photographs spanning 1983-1985, documents Britain’s internal tourism industry, particularly surrounding Liverpool’s shabby seaside town. Of course, this period of history lacked the disposable income or credit that much of the population now has access to, but perhaps now acts as a prediction into the future of a Brexit Britain once the freedom of movement has stagnated. Ever the critic, with a penchant for sarcasm, the more you learn of Parr and connect his work spanning the last 40 years, the more meaning each image has.
Founded shortly after WWII Magnum photography set out to capture the surviving fragments of society in all its black and white glory. This may explain why Parr’s black and white images seek to celebrate and Parr’s colourful works act as a critique of society, causing some to react with distaste.
Photography is largely used today to glamourise and commercialise ‘real life.’ Parr’s works, however, do the opposite and may be why people find some of his works offensive or just simply boring. It is important that in a world full of filters and enhanced images that photographers like Parr have captured the ordinary so we are able to look back with certainty at a current time of so much uncertainty.
The biggest uncertainty for many is what political changes will look like. Over the last 20 years politics and the lifestyles of politicians have been crudely exposed and documented in the media. Parr’s ‘Cost of Living’ series, which was shot between 1986-1989, gives an inside view of the abundant leisure time of a more unchallenged government. The politics of today is perceived asbeing more fraught within parties; it’s interesting to imagine what Parr might document if he was to attend a similar garden party today.
It seemed only fitting that a collection spanning Parr’s career, featuring a varied mix of iconic and outspoken work, should be displayed at Firstsite. As a central community point within a metropolitan city the early reactions to this exhibition have sparked interesting conversations. In addition to Parr’s touring Rhubarb Triangle; The Last Resort, Work and Leisure and Boring Postcards are also on display.
So what will Brexit mean to the art world? It will see a whole new generation step forward, built on a different set of political alliances. Just who will document what this looks like and brings to society, and with what tone is quite an exciting thing to anticipate.
Saturday 2 July – Sunday 2 October 2016
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