Photobook Collectors of a certain age probably need a Martin Parr book in their collections. Being, myself, of that certain age, well, I’ve long thought I should probably have a Martin Parr book in my library and, well, with Beach Therapy that box has been ticked.
My journey to a Martin Parr book, to this particular Martin Parr book, is a long and twisted tale. Sorta.
I’m not sure where I first came into contact with Parr’s work. I have some memory of seeing something of it back in art school in the 00s, but it probably really came onto my radar during my brief dalliance with Erik Kim’s blog and his “X things [famous photographer] can teach you…” series. I like the one-off, greatest hits, best ofs that you often see around, so I kept my eye out for one of Parr’s books.
They don’t often appear in the used book stores I used to frequent (before Covid). The big Half Price Books Mothership in Richardson, TX had his pink and yellow retrospective book on its shelves for a reasonable-enough price for nearly a year, but I didn’t buy it… in fact, that was during one of the many years where I spent hours wandering that particular Half Price and then walked out without buying anything, not even a coffee from the attached coffee shop. And in all my travels around, all the book stores I’ve wandered into alone or with Mom in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and elsewhere, I’ve never seen another Martin Parr book.
I probably should’ve bought that retrospective book. I hesitated for a couple of reasons: it was in rather ratty shape, really, and the first maxim from Kim’s Parr post stuck with me. “Focus on sets, not individual images.” Actually, that quote probably led to my favoring actual bodies of work over retrospective books. My collecting has always been about learning and never about economics, but it can’t hurt that retrospective books are generally priced lower on the used and collector markets.
So, Beach Therapy.
When Beach Therapy, I was excited. “A New Martin Parr Book! Yay!” I immediately went to buy it, but then decided I wasn’t interested in Parr’s experiments with a telephoto lens on various beaches around the world.
Weeks or months went by. I forgot about it. Then Parr (or someone) posted a quote from the book in my Instagram feed. Here is that quote, in full. It’s the opening two paragraphs from Parr’s introduction to Beach Therapy.
I have a long-established affection for the beach as a place to photograph; people can really be themselves as they sunbathe, play, swim, and relax. For me, the beach is also a human laboratory where I can experiment with new ideas and approaches, using the location to explore what is possible with the camera. So, in my long career, the many cameras and techniques I have used have first been applied to beach photography, often in the early days of a particular phase of my work.
I am now going to list the different phases of my beach photography career and try to show how they flowed into each other. This book illustrates the different phases of my beach photography as they unfold.Parr, Martin. Introduction to Beach Therapy. Damiani, Italy, 2018.
Did you catch that? Did you read what I did? Does that not suggest that the book is a sort of retrospective of Parr’s beach photography, of him testing out techniques on the beach?
Parr goes on to list his different phases: Early days: black and white, 1970-1982; Medium format, color, wide angle, along with flash, 1982-1986; Medium format, standard lens, 1987-88; Macro and ring-flash, 1995-2008; Digital, 2007 and forward; The telephoto era, 2014 and forward.
Nice! So it’s a selection of images from Parr’s archive, right? With some early black & white shots, wide angle and standard lens with flash, macro, ring flash, etc., all the stuff we know and love about Parr’s work, plus some more recent digital and telephoto work. Sounds good!
Into the cart went a signed copy, and a month or so later, I unboxed it.
Imagine my surprise when I found only telephoto shots from 2014 and after. Not a single shot on film. Not a single medium format shot. No obvious flash, ring or otherwise. Mostly obvious telephoto digital.
Sure, there are some good pictures here: sharp people, far away, walking on the sand, viewed through foliage like a spy; people walking on the beach in winter, bundled in heavy coats, tugging their children away from the icy water; coats get thinner, shorts appear, people continue to mill about the beach; the ice cream trucks come out, shorts get shorter, shirts disappear, actual bathing suits appear; the beach becomes crowded; there are photographs with sharp plants in the foreground with blurry people in the background, and one really great one with a blurry person blending in with blurry plants in the foreground, with a sharp sunbather behind.
There’s a real Where’s Waldo quality to many of the pictures, and some that I don’t get at all, some that I would’ve cut from my book of beach photographs, not that I have enough beach photographs to make a book, nor the cred or audience to bother making a book in the first place.
So did I misread? Did Martin Parr write the introduction before putting the book together? Did he write an introduction to a different book, a Beach Retrospective book, and the printers or his publisher changed it at the last minute? Beach Therapy is in no way “illustrates the different phases of my beach photography as they unfold.” It perhaps illustrates how Parr’s use of the telephoto lens unfolded from 2014 and after, except for the fact that the images are not presented chronologically.
In the United States, we have these laws that mandate (minimal) truth in advertising. I guess that makes us special.
I feel like I’ve only given poor or Unrated ratings lately. Perhaps the quarantine is really getting to me. Perhaps the other things in my life at present, all the things I’ve let get to me, have bled into my photobook viewing and reviewing. I know that I feel a general level of frustrated anger almost all the time these days, and I don’t really know how to shake it or get it out. So it might be me more than Parr or his book. Still, though, Beach Therapy can probably get a skip, and when I run out of bookshelf space again and go to cull the herd, well, bye bye. Sure, there are some good pictures in it, and there better be: Parr is a living master, after all.
Parr has a newer book of images from Ireland, From the Pope to Flat White, 2019. I might pick up a copy of that, maybe, as it has an actual retrospective nature, with some more-or-less recognizable Parr pictures in, but I don’t know. Maybe I don’t really need a Parr book—or any particular book by any particular photographer—in my collection. It is, after all, my photobook collection, accumulated according to my logic. Sure, there are some dogs in there, and on purpose too, but there’s nothing that needs to be in there. Well, The Americans and American Photographs notwithstanding. Shoot, I think I sold off my one Ansel Adams book, as that sort of High Art landscape photography just doesn’t appeal. And Beach Therapy definitely doesn’t need to be there, signed or not.
If you want (or need) a copy, you can get a new, unsigned copy at a discount all over. If you’d like mine, make me a reasonable offer: it’s signed, after all, and I’m happy to let it go.