Parr, Martin

Born 1952, Epson, Great Britain, lives in London

“Making sure something like this really exists.” This, says British photographer Martin Parr, is what drives him. He looks for evidence almost obsessively. Perhaps Parr’s search for evidence can be seen most strikingly in his Luxury series. Does the world really exist? This is the question hiding behind every photograph from this series. “Yes, this world really exists,” says Parr. Without shyness, take a look and focus your vision. That is how Parr does it. Without shame, directly, but not without empathy. The result is a series of small-format colored photographs, titled after the name of the place they were taken and the year in which they were taken.

There is no grim English weather in his Luxury photographs, as there is in his first book, Bad Weather, which made him internationally famous. There is not the hopeless world of the underdogs of society, or the bad taste of the middle class. No, this is a jolly, colorful, and exciting world that Parr encountered in Durban, at Moscow’s fair for millionaires, in Miami Beach at Art Basel, in Dubai, Ascot in England and Munich. But is this world really so jolly?

The young, compulsively smiling visitor to the Moscow fair evokes a sense of sadness rather than joy. What about the cigars that youthful-looking men hold between their fingers, and the luxury-brand sunglasses that protect the faces hidden behind them in Dubai, Miami, or Moscow? Do not worry, there will not be any real human contact. This is exactly what makes this world so barren and lonely. Behind the glasses of champagne, behind the sunglasses, behind the flashy jewels, humanness disappears. Global vulgarity seems to be replacing humanity. “We are all much richer than is good for us,” says Parr.

The world of the nouveau riche is colorful, and Parr’s photographs of this world are even more colorful. His photograph taken at Ascot in 2004, which shows two women standing, is unique. There is a corpulent woman in a pink dress on the left and, on the right, a young woman clothed in an acid purple dress. Between these two women is a purse, adorned with artificial flowers. Suddenly, on the bulging belly of the corpulent woman, we notice a small stain. This stain is precisely the kind of accent that reveals a little bit of humanity beneath the affected trappings of wealth. Parr’s unique sense of humor. He uses humor not to make fun of his subjects, but, conversely, to return to them their humanity by capturing these moments of weakness and silliness.