Martin Parr – Only Human

Martin Parr is a British documentary photographer, he is known for his intimate and vibrant portraits of British life which examine the culture, lifestyle and society of Britain. On my the 8th April, my birthday, I visited his current exhibition at the National Portraits Gallery called Only Human. It was a very inspiring experience and relevant to my current project as it deals with themes of identity, memory, nostalgia and heritage. I especially liked how the exhibition space was curated, each room was themed to match the images on display and the colour of the walls had been though about carefully, as the colours often matched accents in the photographs or the general tone of the images. I was particularly interested in one room which displayed a series of self – portraits Parr had taken in novelty photo booths around the world. Each image was framed and presented on a wall, clustered purposefully together. Each frame differed in colour and size which gave it a more chaotic and less refined approach. The way it had been designed reminded me of wall you might see in a family home, as if they were family portraits hung on the wall with pride. I liked this homely feeling and sense of familiarity the display created. Also the humorous and playful element to it was appealing, some novelty photo booths had superimposed Parr’s face onto a muscular body, seeing this in a gallery setting was really striking and made the design more effective.

I liked the general concept as it relates to my overall theme and photo booth experimentation. He commemorated his time across the globe via these novelty photo booths which shows his determination to create and preserve a memory. Also its shows how he has control over his own image and presentation as he keeps a consistent, ironic expression throughout despite the different environments and themed booths.

Another interesting aspect of the exhibition was the cafe which was at the centre of the exhibition. It was stylised to present as a classic, seaside cafe. With cheap plastic seating, hot drinks in paper cups and a selection of stodgy cakes. It was themed bright red and white and decorated with framed photos Parr had taken of food. I liked this integration of a realistic setting alongside the art, it gave the concept a greater authenticity and immersed the spectator in Parr’s world. It also created a sense of nostalgia as most people living in Britain would have experienced a cafe similar to that in their lifetime, as a seaside holiday could be considered a staple within British culture. The whole exhibition had this immersive quality due to its considered curation, it had a familiarity to it, it made me feel at home which is something I really enjoyed. It was a nostalgic experience as it made me think about my own perception and memories of Britain. So it was excellent visual and conceptual reference for my own project.

I am particularly interested in the varying scale and presentation of his images, it has made me consider how I intend to print and present my own, as I think varying the scale of my own images when presented on a wall could be more effective and better portray my concept.





Olivia Ezechukwu

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