Martin Parr: Life’s a Beach

The beach, loved and enjoyed by many, is a place where people seek fun, relaxation, fitness, company, and quiet moments. British photographer Martin Parr takes viewers on a journey that looks at the activities of beachgoers up close in this exhibition, ‘Life’s a Beach.’ Presented by the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP) in partnership with Waverley Council, ‘Life’s a Beach’ is on view at the fitting Bondi Pavilion Gallery. Parr’s photographs were taken over three decades in different parts of the world spanning Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Spain, Italy, Latvia, Japan, the United States, Mexico, Thailand, and the UK.

‘Life’s a Beach’ was produced by Aperture Foundation New York and now for the first time, the exhibition will be shown in Australia. The 53 images share contrasts among the varying locations with people seen assembling in their comfortable positions ready for the events of the day to follow. ACP Curator, Claire Monneraye says, “Beyond the kitsch snapshots of people relaxing, at their leisure, Parr is capturing cultural differences, what people do, wear, or eat on the beach. The beach is a constantly changing theatre and rare public space in which all absurdities and quirky national behaviours can be found.”

Viewers are given an overview of the artist’s technical approaches and creative decisions. Technological advancements saw Parr transition from the use of medium format camera in the 1980s to telephoto lens around 2007 which resulted in a shift in Parr’s creative storytelling. Spontaneity is crucial in Parr’s practice. Monneraye explains “…not asking permission, getting really close to his subjects, grabbing moments and expressions as they occur. However, this has changed in the last decade and issues surrounding privacy has heavily impacted how street photography operates.”

The Ocean Dome (1996) photographed in Japan, emulates a real beach when in fact the beach depicted has been physically constructed. The tightly packed crowd lines the sand. People continue out into the water until they are abruptly halted by a wall, positioned where the line of the horizon should be. The crowd seems unfazed by the artificiality presented to them as they continue to enjoy their time in the dome. When Parr takes his lens from a distant shot and narrows in on areas within close proximity, a more personal side to the people residing on the shore is discovered. Kent. Margate taken in England in 1986, shows a lady well equipped to combat the sun. She has made her reading experience as comfortable as possible with her cup of tea just within reach. This is her way of spending time by the seaside.

The photographs showcased in ‘Life’s a Beach’ are fused with comedy and amusement. Viewers are welcome to see different aspects of life and realise those things that often go unnoticed. While many of the images speak of irony and satire, each photograph underpins a serious message about society. Monneraye says, “This exhibition is above everything else highly enjoyable. The bright colours and marvellous composition of the images, the quirkiness of the scenes depicted really offer an entertaining visual journey for everyone to enjoy.” After people leave the exhibition at Bondi Pavilion Gallery and take a stroll past one of Australia’s most iconic beaches, it may feel as though one of Parr’s images has been stepped into and opened up for observation in real time.

Bondi Pavilion Gallery
Until 27 March, 2016
Sydney