British Summertime Through the Lens of a Young Martin Parr

A dose of sun-soaked nostalgia, courtesy of the feted British image-maker and his formative photo series.

Ramsgate, Kent, 1986. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

British summertime doesn’t start, in an official capacity, until June 21st. But with temperatures soaring and the Royal wedding just ten days away — the perfect reason, if any were needed, for Brits to indulge in Pimms-fuelled street parties and bunting-strewn fêtes — you could be forgiven for thinking it’s already underway.

For street photographers, summer in the UK presents the opportunity to capture the British at their most quintessential: indulging in ‘99 Flakes, parading sunburnt limbs, eating fish and chips by the seaside and dozing in the afternoon sun — rituals that have barely changed in the past half-century. And no one captures our idiosyncrasies better than lauded British documentary photographer Martin Parr, who has devoted much of his 50-year career to chronicling modern life in England in his wonderfully frank, highly saturated style.

Untitled (Girl Serving Ice Cream), 1983-85.
© Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

Now, a forthcoming exhibition at London’s Huxley-Parlour Gallery offers visitors the chance to revisit some of Parr’s earliest forays into street photography, showcasing over 30 works made during the first 15 years of his career. Many of these are in black and white — a lesser-known facet of the 65-year-old image-maker’s oeuvre — taken from his early series, including “The Non-Conformists”, “Bad Weather” and “Beauty Spots”. Even in these formative shots, Parr’s distinct vernacular is already at play, from the unselfconscious candour he elicits from his subjects to the underlying themes of class, consumer culture and leisure. Take the holidaymakers clustering around the overcrowded pool at “Butlins by the Sea” or the children marching joyfully down the road during a “Jubilee Street Party”.

The exhibition also features Parr’s transition into colour in the mid-80s, including works from his seminal series “The Last Resort” (1983-1985). Shot in New Brighton, an historic working-class holiday destination, the series memorably features a surly ice-cream parlour employee, who stares sulkily at Parr’s lens as kids clamour for her attention — one of the better-known works on show. Other highlights include an impromptu OAP sunbathing session in a Ramsgate carpark (demonstrative of Parr’s signature wit, and eye for composition), and face-painting frolics at Wallasey Carnival. Bring on the summer!

From ‘Butlins by the Sea’, 1972. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos
Wallasey Carnival, Wallasey, 1983. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos
Jubilee Street Party, Todmorden, West Yorkshire, 1977. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

Martin Parr: Early Work 1971-1986 is at Huxley-Parlour Gallery from May 15th – June 8th, 2018.

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