Exercise: Getting the Parr feel

It took me a while to make it down to the seaside but it was worth the wait as it seems like the best place for this exercise. I have, of course, cheated by using specific resort subjects to mimic Parr’s work, rather than purely technique.

This exercise was tricky, as I imagined it would be, and I do not feel I have really succeeded. I rarely use flash and so am not super confident with deploying it in a subtle way.  The effect is certainly interesting though and I would love to try using a ring flash as Parr does.

It adds a sort of plastic feel which enhances the already slightly cheap and tacky feel to English coastal towns. Unfortunately, Sidmouth is a bit classier than I would have liked and was still very distinctly off-season (even though May 1st signals the beginning of the Summer when dogs are no longer allowed on the beach!) so it was impossible to find a crowd or much sunshine or litter.

AY2A3844

The flash can definitely flatten some scenes. This boat looks as if it is set next to a 2D backdrop.

I enjoyed playing with the saturation and using the flash allows greater leeway with that.

AY2A3832

I also altered the temperature on some of the images to warm things up a little.  Something I should have tried to capture more were some larger out of focus figures in the foreground and I didn’t really achieve the bronze effect that Parr does so well.

AY2A3827AY2A3825

I realised quite quickly that is difficult to avoid these looking like family album snapshots and it is not always easy to identify when it becomes art.  This is image is clearly posed so misses the mark.

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On balance, whilst this is look does not feel very ‘me’, I can imagine some scenarios and subject matters where it could be an effective approach in documentary and other genres of photography so it has been a useful exercise. The hyperreality can reflect the photographer’s aim to reveal a ‘warts and all’ scene or community and it allows subjects to be exposed and explored without feeling too surreptitious or sneaky.

Parr says “I am critiquing the problems of modern society, and not really the people in them. I’m critiquing Toryism, consumerism, tourism. They are all part of the Western world we live in and it seems bizarre to me not to photograph it… I take pictures of ordinary life, perhaps sometimes made to look slightly surreal. Because real life is surreal.” [1]

It was not an appropriate time to be getting up in the faces of strangers so I used my family as models and it becomes tricky to be objective and wallow in distortion or hints of the grotesque. Fortunately – for the sake of art – my niece Chloe has a run-in with a gull (ice cream cone dispute) so I managed to get her tear-stained face in two shots. This, for me, conveys the essence of visiting an English seaside town: deeply unsatisfying consumerism combined with huge amounts of stress.

Parr’s friend and collaborator Gerry Badger writes:  “Like much forbidden fruit, the seaside was vulgar. As culture it was distinctly low, yet the tantalizing promise of lubricious pleasures hovered in the seductive haze, around the bared flesh, the seedy pleasure arcades and gaudy cafés. As Parr says, “if the seaside was tatty and more than a little run-down, it was also vibrant.” Thus a simple—and of course not-so simple—correlation, an indisputable truism, was formed in the mind of the young Parr. Tacky frequently means lively. Whether or not one assumes that the automatic corollary must also pertain, it does not matter. The celebrated Parr penchant for all things kitsch has indelible links with the seaside. His seaside observations in general have the intensity of a Proustian recall from childhood or adolescence, a sudden unlocking of a half-remembered, half-forgotten strata of the imagination.” [2]

Below are my eight chosen final images (with a handful more at the bottom which didn’t work):

AY2A3949 AY2A3947 AY2A3926 AY2A3847AY2A3851

AY2A3828AY2A3843 AY2A3841AY2A3849AY2A3848 AY2A3914AY2A3908AY2A3909AY2A3834

References

  1. Jaeger, A.-C. (2010) Image makers, image takers: Interviews with today’s leading curators, editors and photographers. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.
  2. http://www.gerrybadger.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/ParrByBadger.pdf (accessed May 7th 2016)
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