martin parr's Strange paradise

July 2 – August 27 2016
Opening Reception July 9 5-8pm

Guest Curated by Tealia Ellis Ritter

“The fundamental thing I'm exploring constantly is the difference between the mythology of the place and the reality of it…Remember I make serious photographs disguised as entertainment. That's part of my mantra. I make the pictures acceptable in order to find the audience but deep down there is actually a lot going on that's not sharply written in your face. If you want to read it you can read it.” —Martin Parr

the harts gallery is thrilled to announce the exhibition Strange Paradise, the work of legendary British photographer Martin Parr. Parr first garnered attention in the mid-1980s with his series and book, The Last Resort: Photographs of New Brighton, documenting leisure seekers at a seaside town in the United Kingdom. The images from The Last Resort are iconic not only in the way that they reveal the beginnings of Parr’s unique vision, but also in the shift they mark within the broader photographic context: from black and white to color photography, and the beginnings of a bridge between the worlds of fine art and documentary photography. It is with the subject matter of these images, along with his use of saturated color, that Parr begins leading the viewer down a road where seemingly meaningless everyday moments become a source of irony, absurdity, grotesque detail and even magic. A critique also begins, one that Parr has continued to engage in throughout his career, regarding the elements of life we choose to employ in Western, globalized society, often without thought or question. Parr deftly flips the mirror and presents us with our own reflection, reminding us of the world we have created, with its fashion, food, places of entertainment and social structures, in a way that only he could, with equal parts fascination, humor, horror and skepticism.

The series Common Sense highlights Parr's growing preoccupation with globalism and corporate culture, which, by the late 1990s, had overtaken his interest in class. Common Sense is a dictionary of the 1990s; a work of deep foreboding mixed with high visual glee.

For his Luxury series, Parr shows the different ways in which people display their wealth. Choosing various locations across the world, and a range of situations including art fairs and race-courses, Parr has selected scenarios in which people are comfortable showing off their money. Designer clothes, champagne and parties are all part of this repertoire. As well as the more established wealth hot-spots in Europe and America, there are photographs from the emerging world, for example, Fashion Week in Moscow.

Traditionally the portrayal of poverty has been the domain of the ‘concerned photographer’, but Parr has photographed wealth in the same spirit. He believes that when the newly fledged middle classes of, say, China and India demand and receive the luxury goods that we take for granted in the West, it will put considerable pressure on the world’s resources. However, we can view Parr’s photographs in a different light since the start of the global economic downturn. These images now impress us as an epitaph for an era of greed and excess. There are still many wealthy people in the world, and despite the downturn, the parties and horse racing still go on, albeit in a less showy manner. The timing of these photographs is perfect. As we slide into a new world order, we can see evidence of why the bubble burst.

Strange Paradise presents work from several of Parr’s series dating from the 1980s through today, including a number of images from The Last Resort. Though the photographs bridge multiple subjects and almost a quarter of a century of image-making, the theme of leisure emerges again and again, in the settings depicted, the attire worn and the food consumed. The dynamic nature of Parr’s compositions creates icons out of the mundane, but behind these symbols of modern life there is an awareness of the ephemeral nature of the Now. In time, food, fashion and even our concepts of pleasure will evolve. The images will remain as artifacts of this specific moment in the ever-changing human narrative.


Martin Parr (b. 1952 Epsom, United Kingdom) is a British documentary photographer and the president of Magnum Photos. His interest in photography began at an early age, inspired by his grandfather George Parr, an amateur photographer. He studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic from 1970-1973. His work has been exhibited internationally in countless museums and galleries, including the Tate Modern, London; the Louvre, Paris; the Haus de Kunst, Munich; the Sprengel Museum, Hannover; Barbican Art Gallery, London; Danziger Gallery, New York; Janet Borden Gallery, New York; and Aperture, New York. Over 90 books of Parr’s work have been published in the United States and abroad.