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Langweilige Postkarten

by Martin Parr

ISBN 0714840629 / 9780714840628 / 0-7148-4062-9
Publisher Phaidon Press
Language English
Edition Hardcover
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Book summary

Boredom amounts to the same in any culture, but English photographer Martin Parr, who curates Langweilige Postkarten (Boring Postcards Germany) as he did its precursors, Boring Postcards and Boring Postcards USA, has elevated it to an art form in all. What this new collection illustrates graphically is the remarkable similarity between post-war Britain and Germany, in terms of cube-shaped (rather than Cubist), grey, functional designs, unaccountably celebrated in card form as urbanscapes to cherish. Which, with retrospective post-modern irony, they are. Such kitsch could be over-sold, with rhapsodising commentary, but Parr has allowed the imagery space, which is the only way such a project could succeed. Consequently, the cumulative effect is considerable, as you start to manoeuvre through the monotony, eager to spot subtle difference, defining features, and socio-historical meaning. Very quickly, the eye starts to sort the images of East and West, not just through the makes of car (Trabant in the GDR, anything but in the West), but the architectural designs, people's clothes, even the image selection. Roads are straight, service stations, or Autobahn-Raststätten, severe (one stunning card reveals a particularly drab canteen with people sitting meekly at tables, despite all the food displays being closed), petrol filling stations abound, and the key word seems municipal. Even hotels, indulgers of weary flesh, resemble bunkers, or faceless public housing.

Arrayed as if in a family photograph album, the images recall a bygone age of post-war reconstruction, when the emphasis was on logistics: transport, accommodation, and a general, unfussy, symmetrical solidness, symbolised by bad design, and worse upholstery. It's both awful and awe-inspiring, this industrial sprawl and set-square architecture, the bleakly familiar caravan-lined coastline. There is also, presumably to the delight of the curator, a run-of-the-mill, mock-Alpine gasthaus named Hotel Parr. And yet, this is life, as rich in its resurgent functionality as Gaudi's flamboyance. Best enjoyed with a tepid flute of Liebfraumilch, and Kraftwerk on the stereo. --David Vincent [via]