Ahead of his talk at Port Eliot, we revel in one of Britain’s greatest documentary photographers’ views on the season
Martin Parr looks at summer with a critical eye, taking the holiday photos that don’t make it into family albums. He captures the inelegantly slipped bikini, the back fat, bald mens sunburnt pates, the congregating rubbish – the unphotogenic other half to more conventional tropes of white sand, sunsets and honed bodies. This weekend, the artist takes to the stage at Port Eliot Festival, presenting his recent Black Country Stories series alongside novelist Margaret Drabble. To celebrate, we explore three of his standout portrayals of summer from across his forty-year career.
The Last Resort
This hyper-coloured depiction of the working class at play was shot in New Brighton in the early 80s, depicting the once popular seaside resort outside Liverpool that went into decline as the Mersey tides changed and the sand literally disappeared beneath holidaymakers’ feet. Summer in New Brighton is fiercely practical – sunbathing on concrete next to a piece of heavy machinery, changing a baby beside fetid water laced with trash, taking time out in shabby arcades, queuing up for hotdogs and chips. Without snobbery, with humour and affection, Parr presents a very unromantic summer holiday in vivid Technicolor, in a story that provoked mass controversy and changed the face of documentary photography in Britain.
A favourite theme in Parr’s work is going behind the camera. A seraphic bunch of Japanese tourists standing in plumply serried ranks in front of the Acropolis, a confection of girls carefully align their hands to prop up the Tower of Pisa – all those pictures that traditionally clog up the album are disjointed by the angle of the outsider. The point becomes opaque – why do we journey to far-flung places to get a picture that someone else has already taken? He shows the tourists at odds to their surroundings, as they attempt to “do” a place, part of a modern culture that demands surprises in travel, just as long as they were on the Lonely Planet website.
Obviously, the central tenet of a British summer is the discussion of clouds and rain – either in rage at their presence, or weary anticipation of their arrival. In one of his first series, Bad Weather, Martin Parr took on the hail and rainstorms of the British climate – armed with an underwater Nikinos camera – to create a poignant portrayal of hardy commuters, determined campers and the underdressed caught without an umbrella. It's a collection that chimes wonderfully true with all who inhabit this unreliable climate.
Martin Parr is speaking on the Bowling Green at 10:45am on August 1, at Port Eliot Festival. AnOther are staying at Port Eliot courtesy of Yurtel Boutique Camping.