Photographs by Martin Parr. Essay by Rogelio Villarreal.
Aperture, New York, 2006. 88 pp., 81 color illustrations, 11¾x8¼".
From the moment you take this book into your hands, you know the intent is to stimulate. The silver pinwheel cover, novel in its unfinished quality and radiating with kitschy abandon, announces that we've already arrived at the carnival. You know before seeing a single photograph that this will not be a nuanced approach to a complex culture: Mexico has no explanatory subtitle and is printed in a font reminiscent of a fútbol jersey or a mechanic's roadside sign. These are snapshots taken through the selective lens of Martin Parr.
He "shows us, almost shamelessly, the likeable and hateful aspects of our characters," writes Rogelio Villarreal in the introduction. Parr stalks the stereotype. He has stated that this project is about U.S. influence on Mexican culture, and he relies heavily on McDonald's and Coca-Cola logos and Simpsons/South Park/Spiderman representations as the principal signifiers. They in turn are juxtaposed with things "Mexican": commodified religious icons, processed food and sold-out indigenous heritage. It is the synchronicity, the
jumble of all these, that Parr celebrates. The beaches and cowboy hats that one might expect from a book entitled Mexico are here too, but caught in the awkwardness of real life.
Parr breaks the rules of what is traditionally acceptable art-book material, both in terms of what and how. His
signature style is haphazard in composition and mocking in tone. In a photograph of half-empty salsa bottles, only the nearest cap is in focus; the opportunity for a study in color and texture is lost. In another image, he snaps a pile of pink sugared doughnuts and the headless torso of the woman who sells them. Show me the details of the gleaming fuchsia crystals or show me the woman's face that I may read what I can of her life; Parr's style allows for neither, and his purpose lies elsewhere.
This is not meant as a study of place but rather of mass culture, of consumerism and global commodities. Parr chose Mexico to traipse through its cemeteries and grab mug shots of people in the street. In theory, he could have made a similar comment anywhere, but globalization is not a finished process and in practice Parr reveals a culture distinctly Mexican. Thus the
creativity involved in appropriation can be recognized and Mexico's unapologetic appreciation of the gaudy reveled in. Perhaps the most valuable interpretation of this book is that there are points of shared experience across the modern planet, but culture is still specific. NELL FARRELL
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