Friday, June 26, 2009

Playas by Martin Parr



If I understand correctly, Martin Parr and the publishers of his new book Playas, Editorial RM and Chris Boot, left all creative control of the book to the printer they employed in Mexico. That is, the design, sequencing, format, everything. This decision was made after asking several different low cost printers to design a cover and then Martin picked the best (or worst depending on how you look at it) and that company won the job to do the whole production. The result may be the best Martin Parr book in quite a while.

Playas is Parr's take on various beaches through Latin America. His subjects dip into the water and take the sun amongst a variety of detritus both bought and washed ashore. They or should I say we, come off as an awkward lot as he points us to micro-bikinis, flesh in all sizes and shapes, and the wide variety of relaxation techniques.

The first image which appears on the front endpaper shows a train of people either arriving to or departing from the sand. Behind them a sea of bodies have staked a claim amongst the umbrellas and small cabanas that litter the horizon. It is an image which sets a tone of exhaustion, both the physical and the visual. Throughout Playas there is so much information that, like being sapped of your energy from the sun, you sense the exhausting nature of a day at the beach.

Formally Parr does his best to juggle the information with a flare to accent the oddity. A green bottle of soda, a towel covered head, various magazine spreads (photography of photography) or an odd splash of color all get worked into frames that are often dense and complex. At their best, they are a surprise and at their weakest, they describe motifs as photographically common as a stale one-liner.

Bookwise, Playas wins hands down. Parr seems in near constant examination of humanity as example of bad taste. His book design's often flirt at this when what they needed to do was haul back and slap to convey that bad taste. The Last Resort, his book on New Brighton, added graphic blocks of color to accent the superficial, hyper-reality of his flash enhanced colors. One of his latest books, Mexico, tries its hand at being tacky with its cover design and bright green spine. What fails for me is that it is often graphic designer's idea of bad taste instead of the real thing.

The designer of Playas pulls out all the tricks and makes the photos seem as if they popped from a digital photobooth that might have lined the strand. Bordered by graphics of palm trees and the ubiquitous truck mud-flap silhouette of a nude woman, Parr's images have found the frames they have wanted for a long time. Small in format and made from cheap material, Playas will test the reader's strength to stomach kitsch with other added faults in production like severe non-registration and inconsistent page trimming that snips into the images and graphics.

Playas retails for $7.00 and I hope it stands the test of time a lot better than the beach umbrella I bought last summer for roughly the same price.

17 comments:

Andrew said...

Thanks for the review. One quibble, however: the subject of The Last Resort isn't Brighton, it's New Brighton (in Merseyside).

Jeff Ladd said...

Thanks Andrew for the correction.

Anonymous said...

pushing the limits..i like it a lot!

df323photo said...

One bookseller's website says that the U.S. distribution is only 100 copies. Is that true?

Jeff Ladd said...

DF323,

That I think is unfortunately true. The $7.00 price is also reflective of purchase in Mexico. I think Dashwood Books in NY has copies now for $25.00.

It will certainly be a very odd paradox when this cheaply produced, purposely pedestrian book will no doubt be selling for some $$.

rr said...

Definetely the worst/best design in quite a few years!

Federico said...

I saw it at Dashwood, and yes, at $25. Didn't like it. Found it boring. I think Parr pushes the envelope to a point where his output starts to become completely predictable and uninteresting. And he's been there for some time. I own a couple of Parrs from the nineties, recognize his contribution to photography -especially during the days of New British Colour-, and even love The Last Resort, but think that at some point he got into an extremely narrow path (and into a persona, as well) that has long been exhausted.

b said...

Think this is awesome, reaffirming and reinvigorating his niche. Would love to buy a copy ...but think I would feel too much like a chump to pay $25 for it. I'll see.

With this and Dr Lakra Editorial RM have two great books out right now.

Jan V said...

Well, I like it! But I would suggest to distribute it for free: print 25000 copies and sell some advertising pages to Thomas Cook, Club Med etc. It could work...

sebastian said...

it really reminds me of tokyo candy box by onaka koji, by design and content. there is some of the usual parr-ish images in there, frantic, funny and un-balanced, but also there is a lot really calm, descriptive snapshot-style images that convey and describe a lot without aiming to "push the envelope". As a book though i think it's quite horrid, as intended.

Anonymous said...

This is like if I layed out and planted a garden with worthless weeds so I could say Isn't it interesting

l'Eminence Gris-zer said...

Nobody has mentioned this but the thoughtful text is by Susie Parr, who I assume is Martin's wife. Is this the first text she's written about Martin or his work or rather is this her first public involvement with his work? I believe she appears in photos from the series "Boring Couples" but other than that I know nothing of the 'personal' side of Martin Parr. Her tone and the ethos of the essay jibes perfectly with the Martin Parr in my mind. Whenever I look through his work I am reminded of Nick Lowe's "Cruel to be KInd". I think "Playas"is a wittily conceived and appropriately executed artist's book. Is it on par with any of Ruscha's? Not a chance but it is in print and it is cheap. I'm glad I have a copy and my hat is off to the folks at Editorial RM. They are doing wonderful work. The only bad thing about this book is that it says nothing on the spine. People who make books with no writing on the spine should be made to suffer in some really distasteful and painful way. At the very least they should know that there are booksellers and bookstores out here in the real world who, as a matter of principle, throw blank-spined books in the garbage or out on the bargain racks. And das no brag, jes' facts!

b said...

> This is like if I ... planted a garden with worthless weeds... <


Ha! BUt can't you see how insane and eccentric that would be? It just might be interesting. Go ahead and try it! But where do you buy seeds for worthless weeds? The lady at the plant store would surely look at you cock-eyed for asking. Which would make it all worthwhile in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Dear L'Eminence Gris-zer. This is Ramon Reverte, publisher of RM. Thank you for your compliments. The reason there is nothing in the spine is because we hired a designer in one of the most popular neighborhoods in Mexico who, obviously, had no professional training. An that was the point for us. What you see is an authetic book (in terms of design) because we didn't interfere at all. The book is what it is. On the other hand, this book will not be distributed in chains, only through independent booksellers and that is why it doesn't have ISBN, barcodes and all the legal stuff. Best.

sebastian said...

Dear R.R., thanks for explaining!
Although I would like to find out what exactly you mean by "authentic"?

Sponge said...

Martin Parr wins 'Best Martin Parr book in quite while' Award.

I, as well as everyone I know and everyone everyone-I-know knows, thinks what Federico wrote.
The pictures in Tokyo Candy box are genuine and felt. This looks like another cheap meaningless trick that can only bluff newcomers.

Anonymous said...

By authentic I mean we let an untrained designer to do the design so it would be a “popular” book similar to those books made in Latin America in the 60’s and 70’s with this particular (kitsch) and cheap look. Martin’s idea was to let an unknown designer and a cheap printer do the job with no intervention from his or our side.