Martin Parr

South Africa, Durban. July Horse Races, 2005

2005, printed 2008

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Not on display

Martin Parr born 1952
Part of
Photograph, inkjet print on paper, mounted on aluminium
Image: 760 × 504 mm
Presented by the artist 2018


This colour photograph is one of a selection in Tate’s collection from British photographer Martin Parr’s series Luxury 2003–ongoing (see Tate P20867P20916). As the title suggests, the series documents high-end social events and leisure activities, such as gallery openings, fashion shows, galas, ski resorts and horse racing festivals, and the individual images consist largely of candid shots of the attendees of these events. Parr has explained that his photographic approach is ‘to exaggerate reality’ (Parr, quoted in Stephen Bayley, ‘“I enjoy the banal”: Stephen Bayley meets Martin Parr’, Spectator, 27 February 2016,, accessed 3 August 2018). He does so by shooting images at a close vantage point, with elements of the composition cropped out of the frame, and through his trademark lurid colour palette (see also Common Sense 1995–9, Tate P78371 for another example of this).

Parr began shooting the images which would become the ongoing series Luxury in 2003, in various locations across the world, including the United States, Russia, Germany and France as well as Britain. The curator and historian Val Williams has described the series as:

a stylistic tour de force for which Parr has marshalled his considerable photographic repertoire, his ability to hone in on the seemingly inconsequential – a bored woman next to a bucket of champagne, two stony-faced sales women on the stand of a private jet hire company, an unpleasant silver bag, a mouth stuffed full of rich food. And everywhere hats, gloves, bags, fur-coats that sweep to the floor and the beautiful pelts on the wild adorning the surgically enhanced bodies of the rich.
(Williams 2005, p.351.)

Parr has spent much of his career documenting class and social ritual. His seminal early series The Last Resort 1983–6 focused on a working-class seaside town in New Brighton, England (see Tate P11922, P78702P78703). His following series, The Cost of Living 1986–9, documented the consumption of the aspiring middle-classes in England, while in Luxury the events documented are associated with wealth and privilege. Williams has noted Parr’s incisive approach to his subjects: ‘When Parr comes across wealth he seeks to devalue it … and when he encounters high value people in environments across the globe his satire becomes extremely direct and uncompromising.’ (Williams 2005, p.348.)

The images in Luxury equally display Parr’s abiding curiosity about our cultural peculiarities and the choices we make: what we buy, wear and eat, and where we go on holiday. ‘I’m a nosy person,’ Parr has stated, ‘there’s no better way of finding out about something than going to photograph it.’ (Parr, quoted in Alastair Sooke, ‘Martin Parr: “If I knew how to take a great photo I’d stop”, Telegraph, 26 January 2016,, accessed 3 August 2018). In this series taste and self-presentation is explored through a forensic exploration of clothes and accessories. These choices are put under the microscope of Parr’s lens, often revealing what British fashion designer Paul Smith has described as ‘the gap between how we are and how we like to think we are … to me [the series] is about falseness – false money, false luxury, overconsumption, people trying to make money out of money, inappropriate behaviour.’ (Paul Smith, ‘Introduction’, in Parr 2009, unpaginated).

Parr initially published Luxury as a photobook in 2009, just following the global financial crash of 2008. The series is a testament to the times and captures a particular moment in history: the emergence of a new rich and a time of excess and unbridled spending that prefaced the worst global recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Further reading
Val Williams, Martin Parr, London 2005.
Sandra S. Phillips, Martin Parr, London 2007.
Martin Parr, Luxury, London 2009.

Sarah Allen
July 2018

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