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Only Human: Martin Parr review

Art National Portrait Gallery , Leicester Square Until Monday May 27 2019
4 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(6user reviews)
Only Human: Martin Parr review
Magdalene Ball, Cambridge, England, 2015. Picture credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Gallery;

As Britain’s Self-Loathing Olympics head towards their Closing Ceremony, the country’s favourite documenter of our endlessly conflicted national identity lands at the NPG. This is not a coincidence. Since the referendum result in 2016, photographer Martin Parr has been pointing his lens at various aspects of the nation to investigate, in his word, ‘Brexitness’. That’s the background to this show, but the result is more of a latter-career retrospective. Along with the Brexit images, there are celeb portraits, weird self-portraits, portraits of groups of people doing stuff (bog-snorkelling, Indian dancing) that Parr made for the BBC, a merch shop and a caff where you can have a cuppa and a piece of battenberg cake. One room has a disco ball and a pub carpet in it. Another has astroturf on the floor. To be honest, it’s all a bit of a mess, but then so is the UK right now, so maybe it’s fitting.

Parr has always been a keen observer of the contradictions of being a person and how those contradictions are magnified and distorted by also being a person of a certain age, gender, race or class, then magnified and distorted out of all recognition by the idea of nationhood. So Brexit is very much business as usual for him. There are St George’s flags, people watching the royal wedding, florid toffs at the test match, tattoos, Carnival mas-paraders and plucky pensioners. The cumulative effect is a kind of Parr-land (which wouldn’t be a bad shout for Margate or Herne Bay or somewhere), populated by sort-of pantomime stereotypes who are also actual, real people. It’s a good trick. Parr is one of those photographers who makes you see things like he does. Suddenly things look ‘very Martin Parr’: glum or gaudy or a bit shoddy or apparently trapped in time. If this show lost some of its gimmicks, it would have a clear message about how the seeds of Brexit have been germinating all around us, all of our lives. But I suspect the daft gimmicks have a purpose, as a metaphor for distraction and complication. Parr probes at the contradictions of Brexit. People don’t always want a clear message: they want to be entertained and to be allowed to believe what they want to believe, however silly or crass or counter-intuitive. To be human.

Venue name: National Portrait Gallery
Contact:
Address: St Martin's Place
London
WC2H 0HE
Opening hours: Mon-Wed, Sat, Sun 10am-6pm; Thu, Fri 10am-9pm
Transport: Tube: Charing Cross
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Average User Rating

3.2 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:0
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:4
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|6
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tastemaker

I must admit I wasn't aware of Martin Parr's work until this exhibition but am a big fan of his style and eye. His pieces are quite comical and told an interesting story of the UK as we walked around each section. I also liked the addition of a typical British caf' right in the middle where you can stop for a drink and some cake. So why the 3/5? I was very lucky to get a guest pass to attend this exhibit but was disappointed to see that the usual admission price is a hefty £18! One of the best things about London is how accessible culture is to the masses no matter your income or circumstance, but in this instance, only the middle to upper class would be able to afford this admission and that to me is a disgrace. 

Tastemaker

I’m not specifically a Martin Parr’s fan, but I do appreciate his humour and eye for detail on the most everyday images. This exhibition is a good showcase for that, but I think it got a little lost in its desire to entertain. After a while, it feels just a little random (and it kinda is, but in this case, it ends up losing meaning). It still has very interesting bits and some truly beautiful, challenging, interesting images; but it is not a crucial show (as a Martin Parr’s could be).

tastemaker

I really liked the way this exhibition was put together and displayed and it was an enjoyable experience overall due to its vibrant look. I liked the cafe that was both a real cafe and a part of the exhibition itself mainly because it was just a bit different.

My favourite section of the exhibit was the dancing photography purely because everyone always looks cheery when they dance so this part of the gallery really made you smile.

Overall I felt that there were only a couple of pieces that were truly different in terms of there would have been a huge effort and skill to gain the photos. In that respect I wasn’t that impressed as the photos looked like many I see on Instagram from random mates now. Maybe we’re all pro photographers in this snap happy age.

I also felt the price was a bit steep for what you get.

tastemaker

I wasn't sure what to expect from the exhibition as I hadn't heard of Martin Parr's work before. After the exhibition, I was pleasantly surprised by the humour and soul he captured through his photography. 

People might be familiar with his idents series for the BBC (which are the short sequences shown between programmes to identify the channel, another thing I learned that day!), which I have always thought to be a fun and genuine way of showing everyday Britain.


Overall, the exhibition lacks something special to excite you but there is just enough to make you smile.

Tastemaker

I wasn't aware of Martin Parr before the exhibition, but I enjoyed this introduction to his work.


Multiple rooms explored different aspects of humanness, Britishness, and Parr himself. It was well done and entertaining, and refreshingly different to the Old Masters at the National Portrait Gallery. 


I was particularly enamoured with Parr's self-mockery, with entertaining staged self-portraits at different tourist destinations around the world. 

tastemaker

A very colourful exhibition showcasing British life. I liked the photographs, but it was a bit lost on me - I'm more of a painting kind of gal. I'm sure those who can appreciate fine photography will enjoy this exhibition.

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