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A light reflection of Martin Parr's The Last Resort: Reality or Role-play?


Martin Parr grew up in surrey, England in 1952. His parents, originally his father, was a bird watcher, whom then influenced his mother to continue in the practice too. When he would go out bird watching, he wanted to capture the birds, but as well as that the watchers. From then, he started to point his camera in places that people would usually ignore as they were mundane, boring, and generally part of everyday life. The more mundane the shots he composed using the foundational photography skills his grandfather taught him, the better.

His love for photography grew when he moved to the northern of England. During this time, he noticed the change in cultural differenced of class between the south and north of England. Because he was raised in surrey, he was exposed to a more middle class life, whereas the North, particularly Bradford where he began shooting the everyday lives of people, which were mostly candid shots. These photographs were the start of his interest in life in the everyday.

In 1982 onwards, he started to use a 35mm camera with a ring flash during the daytime time, in order to expose fully the pores and features of people’s faces. In an aesthetic point of depictions of reality, this caused the subjects in the photographs to be shown in a different way compared to the naked eye. Due to the extra exposure on the images, details in the face were more noticeable- although in reality the subjects of these photographs, namely (), do have said pores etc. they are exaggerated, which brings this discussion onto the next point; is it truly depicting reality? Because the naked eye is not supplied with a flash and megapixels, the naked eye, looking at strangers would not be the same as viewing the photograph, therefore surely making the photograph not real, with a sense of reality, but not truthful reality. It starts to become a surreal experience.

Another photographer, Bruce Gilden, also likes to experiment with reality. Although Parr usually takes photographs in a domestic and normal environment, mostly with the subjects knowing and consenting to be photographed, Gilden ignores this stance, and plays with the motion of ethics within his work. His work is usually street photography, where he too also used a high-powered flash as a tool to capture people in situations that are classed as reality. The differences between Parr and Gilden’s work, his that Parr utilised his camera to shoot situations that generally do not have activity within them, they are not expressive, nor have a sense of energy in them. This is because the subjects (human or not) are stationary, due to the lack of blurred imagery. On the other hand, Gilden’s work explores the unexpected, as his photographs are taken without consent, and very quickly. Although both styles of photography are vastly different aesthetically, the content has the same foundations; they depict reality, but in different ways. Martin Parr was influenced to work in colour because he saw the exhibition Peter Mitchell – A New Refutation of the Viking IV Lander” (1974). A lot of photographers during this time were shifting onto the movement of colour.

A lot of Parr’s photographs are highly saturated in colour, meaning that it is an exaggerated reality within the photographs that is not an accurate depiction of real life. Along with the colour of photographs I think it is important to discuss the composition of the photographs that have been taken and the technical sides of these photos, including the camera that he has used. One of Parr’s famous photoshoots (also a book publication) ‘The Last Resort’, 1983-5, when he switched to colour photography he used a Plaubel Makina 67 lens camera.  This is important because of the framing of these images, of how he chooses to decide how close to get to the subject and how he wants to represent reality of New Brighton during this time, because the Makina 67 does not have a zoom lens. The northern of England has always been a lower economically part of England, especially during the 1980s due to the change in leadership of government (Margret Thatcher of the Conservative party in 1979), people were left struggling for money.

In relation to this, Parr’s The Last Resort captured a raw version of the lifestyle that people had during this time. The majority of the photographs that were taken were usually showing children in vulnerable positons (such as an image from the series naked boy standing next to discarded rubbish) and a young toddler out of her pram, whilst her parent is facing a gambling machine the opposite way. This seems like a statement that gambling, and therefore making money was more important to people during this time, which correlates with the time of economic distress during England at that time. Parr seems to be representing this by not romanticising his imagery, by perhaps making his subjects pose or smile. Supporting this, is a quote from photography critic Tanya Kiang ‘The Last Resort can be seen as an incisive critique of the capitalist creation and domination of leisure today.’ (1987). Therefore, Parr is reflecting the reality of then. In an interview by photographer Kai … in 2017 of Parr, Parr exclaims that his works has elements of  ‘brightness, garish, cheap, nasty and try to give it a serious message’

A later series of photographs by Martin Parr, ‘Bored Couples’ show the mundane elements of every day life to demonstrate another sense of reality that most people have experienced. Parr has explored different classes of Britain, as for example in his 1999 BBC Documentary ‘Think of England’ shows the difference between I values of the middle to upper class, and the lower working class. Therefore meaning there is a balanced opinion that is fed to the audience watching, giving a true and fair depiction of reality at this  time.

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