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.