Flicking through the paper recently, I came across Martin Parr’s latest exhibition ‘What would you save in a flood?’ His usual work is often a no-holds-barred look on culture and consumerism in everyday life, but this recent project seemed a little different – he has teamed up with Oxfam to highlight the impact of climate change. The project was inspired by a trip to Vietnam, where the threat of devastating floods is a real possibility, everyday.
The exhibition of his work was held at the Strand Gallery (it finished yesterday, damn!). We made it to the private view last week and loved the simplicity of how the images had been secured to the walls – big, blown-up portraits held up by tiny magnets and nothing else. The images themselves had more than enough to grab your attention.
Half of the images could be seen as soon you walked in, and were all household names – an interesting mix of fashion, music, art, film and comedy icons – shot with their most treasured items (that they would save in a flood, obviously). Paul Smith holds his late father’s Rollieflex camera; Zandra Rhodes clutches onto her sketchbook; Shappi Khorsandi cradles Morph and Chas; Grayson Perry his oldest teddy bear. I think my fave was Michael Eavis’ harmonica given to him by Stevie Wonder at Glastonbury’s 40th birthday. Probably because I was happily swaying in the crowds at the time, and also because it’s so fitting. There’s a cute story behind each object and owner – all very sentimental in one way or another, revealing a hidden layer beneath.
So onto the downstairs part of the gallery space. There lay a set of rather different images – all of villagers from Quang Tri province in central Vietnam. They were also paired with their most treasured possessions – although this time they were things they really had kept safe from the threat of floods. There were some that were heart-breakingly sentimental – a photo of a man and wife or a set of family pics – although most were necessary and practical – a lifejacket; an ID card; school books; a rice cooker. Without sounding sickenly corny and soft, it makes you realise how good we have it. I also found it quite strange that all of the photos from Vietnam were kept downstairs – it made for a powerful contrast between the two sets of images, although it brought home the fact that ‘celebrity sells’ somewhat.
Overall, a lovely, lovely, moving exhibition. It may be too late to check out the exhibition in London, but you can see more of the photos here (and a nice interview with Mr. Parr). We’re also now inspired to show some photos of the things we just couldn’t live without – so watch this space!