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Martin Parr discovers it's a 'Small World' after all

From the pyramids in Las Vegas and Egypt to palm trees in Florence and Goa, British photographer Martin Parr photographed his 'Small World'
Martin Parr, Ocean Dome (1996), Miyazaki, Japan, from the series Small World


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Often full of wit, resembling the absurd snapshots made by the tourists he was photographing, it could be said that in Small World (1987-1994) British photographer Martin Parr was laughing at ordinary people who were making the most of their new opportunities in the late 1980s. 

'Small World is about the difference between reality and mythology of a tourist location,' explains Parr, who has spent 20 years focussing his unforgiving lens on the tourist industry. 'When we get there it is often at odds with our expectations.'

Increased wealth across the nation, coupled with increased access to consumer goods and services, brought about, in part, by the Thatcher revolution, had made many things more accessible to ordinary British people. First examining tourism and tourist landmarks in Europe, Parr soon moved outside the continent after realising that international tourism was an enormous contemporary phenomenon deserving of examination.

Within Small World, Parr draws comparisons between scenes in countries thousands of miles apart; sometimes obviously - between the pyramid in Las Vegas and its original counterpart in Egypt - and sometimes subtly by examining the hand gestures of tourists at the leaning tower of Pisa and street sellers displaying their goods in Goa.

Parr also examined what happened when western cultures met with their eastern unfamiliar surroundings. In one example a woman in western street attire poses for a photograph in front of the authentic backdrop of the pyramids in Egypt; the deep space surrounding the subject renders her much smaller and more vulnerable than she presents herself to be.

Parr discovers strange juxtapositions throughout his travels, postcard stands amid the snow, sphinx and cowboy hats, and in one image in the elegant main square of stockholm beside the statue of a Swedish King, a lady's handbag appears to have caught fire.

Perhaps, to some extent Parr was laughing at these new tourists, but behind the mocking, there was also a sadness, a nostalgia for the trip to the seaside and the holiday camp, for a way of life that Parr had idealised in many of his previous projects.


Photographs from Martin Parr's series Small World will be on show as part of Guernsey Photography Festival (1-30 June). Parr will also be talking through some of his work at An Evening with... Martin Parr at The Old Government House Hotel (17 June).


Martin Parr

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