A Refreshing Time Off

In an art market which seems to become increasingly saturated with overly intellectual artists and exhibitions which consist of a confusing hodgepodge of images, it seems that the more convoluted an artist is, the better, often resulting in works which require an entire discourse to comprehend even the most basic levels of understanding. When this sort of art market causes exhaustion in the viewers, it is very refreshing to step into a show as effortlessly comprehensible as Martin Parr’s “Time Off” show. It is such a pleasant surprise to see there is still an artist today who is working on the basis that art can be easily understood, and yet can still be powerful, moving and influential.

From the title alone, the viewer is given a clear sense of what they will encounter upon entering the gallery. The idea of taking time off and relaxing is evident in these images, and yet there is still something very contemplative and intriguing in them beyond simple photos of people on holiday. Each photograph invites the viewer to analyze and ponder on the notion of taking time off in the context presented in each of the varying situations of relaxation, while also looking into one’s own notion of time off to examine how these situations would fit into those conceived notions. 

Martin Parr’s photography has an incredible ability to transport you to another time through his images, and although the sitters in these photographs are more contemporary, you can’t help but be reminded of the realist painters of the 19th century who decided to focus on the everyday and the often mundane, rather than to over emotionalize and add opulence to what is normally seen as banal. Paintings like Caillebotte’s “Floor Scrappers” comes to mind. Being criticized for painting images that were too vulgar and common, Caillebotte and other Realist painters focused on the idea of the attainable, and the rudimentary. Parr too focuses on the common and the regular. His photos are not of extravagant, over the top holidays which only the most wealthy and privileged can attend. Instead, he photographs people on vacation in relatable destinations. He gives you the chance to evaluate and assess your own vacations from a different perspective; gives you the opportunity to look at your own time off and how you spend it.

The curation of the show also allows greatly for this quiet observation to take place. With out many distractions, the only thing available to view are the photographs hung on stark white walls in a simple, square room. In the center of the room, surrounding a white support column, are eight chairs form which to view the work. You are given the opportunity to in turn, take time out of your own day to sit and relax and simply contemplate the concept of time off. These chairs call for each viewer to sit and excogitate the very notion of relaxation. You are able move around the column from chair to chair in your own time to really ponder over each photograph, forcing you to take time off yourself. So, not only are the images of people taking time off, but it becomes an almost interactive exhibit by placing you, the viewer, in the same activity as the sitters in the photos.

In each of the photographs you get the sense that the viewer is not entirely aware that they are being photographed, adding a voyeuristic element. When you situate yourself on each of these chairs to experience each photograph, you are thrust into a position of exhibitionism that is oddly inviting, asking you to think about each of the sitters in the photographs, to contemplate and wonder about their lives and what has brought them on that particular holiday. Why they chose the places they did to visit and how they are enjoying it. It is this sort of exhibitionism/voyeurism that is so often present in the contemporary art market, and which validates these photographs as just as relevant as any other work being produced today. Martin Parr draws on the influences of the realist ideas and concepts while not forgetting the necessity of creating a criticality in his work. 

The one piece in the show which can be looked at as an anomaly and possibly as a failure is a photo of balloons gathering near a power-line which is titled “Time Off [England Walsall].” Being the only photo without people makes it stand out as a fluke to the show, but when a viewer really takes the time to dwell on the piece and consider the reason for the addition of it into the show by either the curator or the artist himself, the viewer is able to draw even more conclusions. It is a more challenging piece, but essential to the show to give it more of a critical edge. The idea of groups of people is very apparent and consistent in each of the other five photographs, and while “Time Off [England Walsall]” is void of people, it is more interestingly a photograph as evidence of people taking time off; evidence that there are people below these balloons in a place of celebration rather than a place of work or stress. It is in ideas like these that Martin Parr can be seen as a successful and vital component to the contemporary photographic industry, not only in the UK, but world wide.

Any person should take the opportunity to attend this exhibit. It is a key, restorative break to the monotonous, self-indulgent art that is so commonly seen throughout the art world at the present time. It is essential for people in the art world, as well as people outside the art world, to step back and remind ourselves that art doesn’t have to be a complicated jumble of images; that sometimes the beauty of something simple and quiet can stir an emotion or connection much stronger and with a greater longevity than something which is more widely accepted as innovative or important, but in actuality is too confusing to be completely understood.