‘Most of the photographs in your paper, unless they are hard news, are lies,” says Martin Parr. “Fashion pictures show people looking glamorous. Travel pictures show a place looking at its best, nothing to do with the reality. In the cookery pages, the food always looks amazing, right? Most of the pictures we consume are propaganda.”
Parr, 59 years old and perhaps Britain’s best known photographic chronicler of modern life, is sitting in the kitchen of his beautiful Georgian house in Clifton, Bristol. He has served me tea from a fine china pot and “posh biscuits” bought from the deli up the hill. Susie, his wife of 30 years, is stirring something on the hob. Everything looks rather lovely.
Everything, that is, except the appalled expression on Parr’s face when I suggest that sometimes, regardless of their truthfulness, pictures of things looking their best might be exactly what people want to see. “Of course,” he says, “but what people want…” He hits that last word with the force of a punch, then lapses into silence, as if the very thought of taking a photograph that perpetuates a fantasy disgusts him beyond words.
“If you go to the supermarket and buy a package of food and look at the photo on the front, the food never looks like that inside, does it? That is a fundamental lie we are sold every day. Part of the role of photography is to exaggerate, and that is an aspect that I have to puncture. I do that by showing the world as I really find it.”