Book Review: Think of Scotland by Martin Parr
By Scarlett Davis
Succinctly titled, Martin Parr’s published collection Think of Scotland plays upon our global understanding of the Scottish people, the countryside, and the culture. Parr has the unique ability to translate visual photography into clichés and metaphors, while partaking in the established mythos of the cities he travels. Think of Scotland is the third part of a published series, with collections to include Think of England and Think of Germany. Think of Scotland is Parr’s largest previously unpublished archive with a collection of more than a hundred of his best images, curated from twenty-five years ago to the present. Parr provides the lens of a keener tourist with an eye for humor, as well as the beautiful idiosyncrasies that escape the average observer.
As a dweller of England, Parr has expressed a longtime fascination with the Scottish landscape from his first introduction to the country during the 1970s. Parr has traveled most of Scotland, including the islands. This collection stems from his time spent in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Orkney, capturing everything from the iconography of the Highland Games, to the bagpipers, to the Orkney agricultural shows, to a poorly but laughably worded street sign, to a drunken scene at a football match, or to an otherwise unnoticed kitschy display of Scottish meats and desserts.
Parr is well liked for his strange motifs, unusual perspective, and garish colors, but his pure artistry is revealed through his ability to nakedly perceive people without any kind of installed guise, and to do so with tenderness, humility, and amusement. While some might be bored with images without a clear subject, others like Parr are inspired by the notion. When asked about how the artist was able to choose from a multitude of photos over the decades for Think of Scotland, Parr said, “I pick the best pics-then try to make sense of it.” The array of human emotions and experience is complex and often overlooked. Parr’s comment on his selection process and his use of up-close and personal angles helps to control the narrative, which speaks to a growing concern of globalization and the homogenization of all societies.
As someone who travels knows, there is a moment when the myth of a place collides with the present moment. Parr had once depicted the prevalence of smartphones and smartphone-generated photography in his photo of the Mona Lisa from his earlier series, Grand Paris. The photo had focused the attention on the tourists taking pictures with their phones rather than on the famous painting, which to see is a kind of pilgrimage in and of itself. The Scottish romanticism, with its tales of the Highlands and the Loch Ness monster is imbedded in the country’s cultural lore, which lends itself to its own kind of tourism
A memorable photo, “Gourock Lido, Renfrewshire, 2004”, is of a man swimming in an artificial lapis lazuli-like colored pool amidst the backdrop of the natural gray, windy Scottish open waters. Every so often you can travel to a remote setting and be reminded through a subtle detail of an element of home, in that way all places and all peoples become the same. When you think of Scotland, the images your mind will conjure will somehow extend beyond the island and somewhere closer to home.
Martin Parr’s Think of Scotland is published by Damiani at www.damianieditore.com for £30 in the UK, US$40, and euros 35.