“It’s Right Up My Street”: Martin Parr on Tbilisi’s Contradictions

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Imagery © Martin Parr

The British photographer gives his tips on Georgia’s charming capital city – as yet untouched by tourists

With more than 100 published photobooks and 80 exhibitions under his belt – a vast number of which document the domestic and social pastimes of Britons – photographer Martin Parr is a fully fledged national treasure. His saturated and saccharine images record the minutiae of daily life in all its gory glory. From the exact sheen of lime green taffeta worn to the races by a bouffant-haired lady, to the burnished red knees of a sun-lounging vacationer, to the undying glow of a plastic orange gerbera or the fluoro speckles on a sticky iced bun, Parr’s stark ring-flash photography has become synonymous with Union Jack bunting and caravan holidays, his unflinching lens pointed at every strata in the UK’s layered class system.

But it’s not just Britain to which his bulging back catalogue refers, Parr is inordinately well-travelled and has the prints to prove it. Whether it’s a throng of uniformly ponchoed tourists in front of an ancient Inca temple, pouting posers, clamouring cameras and soggy maps at the feet of natural wonders, Parr bestows his love of disparity to any subject. With Tbilisi though, a new tome published by Prestel, Parr zeroes his keen eye in on the poetic, hospitable Georgian capital city of the same name. “I tried to show the contrasts between the old Tbilisi and the modern funky city, this contradiction was right up my street,” Parr told AnOther of his six-day trip. “The juxtapositions in such a stunning city are always appealing.”

His trademark focus on kitsch decor is of course present and correct: be that the pink foam flowers on a glossy iced cake, the bright red roses of a roadside florist or the floral oilcloth on a cake stall. Parr has always insisted that his candid images are simply designed to document, and that any judgement is laden by the viewer alone. But his focus on the camp, twee or ostentatious is undoubtedly a pure love (he proudly boasts collections of watches decorated with the face of Saddam Hussein and reems of Margaret Thatcher memorabilia), which he bestows upon this city that’s charmed him. “The Georgians are very welcoming and the red wines are out of this world and so goddam cheap, it’s worth going there for a wine-tasting alone,” he explains. “The markets are stunning and yet no tourists really go there, they are missing one of the main assets of the city. Go there before everyone gets onto this!”

Tbilisi by Martin Parr is published by Prestel and out now.