Over the course of 25 years and countless expeditions, Martin Parr (b. 1952) has developed a love affair with Scotland. The British documentary photographer has travelled from Ayrshire to Aberdeenshire and from Orkney to the Western Isles. Along the way, he celebrates clichés with accents of tartan, traditional dance and the Highland Games, offering up quirky yet compassionate views of otherwise unnoticed moments. Works from his Think of Scotland series, published in an eponymous book in 2017, are featured at Aberdeen Art Gallery’s new exhibition space.
As a “chronicler of our times,” he transforms and elevates familiar scenes of community, food and desolate landscapes, with comic relief whenever possible. A children’s playground (2009), for example, shows an empty swingset on the Isle of Raasay tossed by the wind, whilst a sign reads “Please do not use this playing field on Sundays” in the foreground. One can only guess it was indeed a Sunday by the seaside. In another, Parr offers a glimpse of smoking youths through a graffiti-laden window in Easterhouse (1995), one of several tableaux of the Glasgow suburb of the same name. Similarly, the viewer gets just a vague, blurry sense of Scotland’s transportation in Top deck of the bus (1995), where the focus is on a passenger who fell asleep, slumped against a window.
Speaking of the social scene in Scotland, Parr says “it’s different from where I live in Bristol, it’s rougher and more engaging and quite dramatic. That difference really appeals to me.” In a 2006 image of the Highland Games in Inveraray, four kilted men appear with their faces out of shot, which draws even greater attention to the outfits glaring out from the green landscape. In the foreground, it’s all (large) arms and bare knees. The tip of a nose and bearded chin appear in one corner, alongside the last bite of a sandwich. In another piece, an elderly man in Port Glasgow, From A8 (2004) has just fallen; perhaps he lost his senses in a drunken stupor. No one will ever know for sure, and that’s part of Parr’s riddle.
A second body of work, Aberdeen at Leisure, has been specially commissioned by the gallery. Over several visits to the city in 2017, Parr photographed individuals in locations as diverse as sporting venues, places of worship and nightclubs. The commission is not only a celebration of the gallery’s reopening, but is also offering a new sense of dialogue with the city, creating a lasting legacy about the community. Through it all, the dreary, the ostentatious, the bleak, the joyful and the verdant, Parr becomes one with his surroundings. The celebrated Magnum Photos member captures intimate scenes by revealing their anthropological underpinning, pointing to moments of humanity in its most relatable, comedic or alien moments. The images can be grotesque, with saturated colours and distorted perspectives, but they reveal everyday lives in all their absurdity and beauty.
Until 23 February. Find out more here.
Hear Martin Parr speak at the Aesthetica Future Now Symposium. 12-13 March. York, UK. Find out more here.
Lead image: Gourock Lido, Inverclyde, Scotland, 2004. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos.