Martin Parr is the quintessential anorak. How could he not be, raised by intrepid curtain-twitchers whose weekends were spent bird-watching at a sewage farm in Surrey? He’s gone on to collect everything from John Hinde postcards to Saddam Hussein wristwatches, but his speciality is categorising people. Sharpen your pencils and focus your binoculars, Parr spotters: it’s time to familiarise yourself with some of his favourites.
The shopper This headless, bare-chested joe clutching his Kwik Save carriers on a street in Salford in 1986 is an uncommon example of a very common species. More often, the shopper is fully clothed and female. An industrious gatherer, her native habitat is the mall and the supermarket, where she reaches and grabs frenziedly or else stands rooted to the spot by bags heavy with her haul. The shopper can be spied the world over, inspecting bruised apples in St Petersburg or hauling bolts of Laura Ashley fabric in southern England.
The lipsticked lady Her painted mouth is pure Parr. Though she’s among the most colourful of his flock, she can be found in some of the drabbest settings. Here she is, for instance, in Talinn, Estonia, sitting at a checkout buttoned into a white polyester uniform. A long strip of receipts lolls from the cash till—evidently business is brisk but its monotony has left her with that bored look so characteristic of Parr’s people. It recalls the ice cream server from his series “The Last Resort” and makes you wonder whether she has a mother like the one from the “Signs of the Times”—whether she might, in another time and place, grow up to become the lady (the same series) who falls in love with her wallpaper.
The encumbered tourist Guidebooks and cameras, maps and sunglasses, all the little things that add up to a hulking weight when stuffed into a rucksack or fanny pack… We don’t travel light and we never travel elegantly in Parr’s world. This woman caught in Mexico in 2002 is a classic of the genus. Peering through the viewfinder of her Canon, a sunhat tied on with a scarf and shades at the ready, she’s strapped into a backpack that’s further adorned with a water bottle. A teddy bear, just about visible, rides pillion. The clutter stands…