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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Martin Parr on the Street in Cambridge

Martin Parr in CambridgeJust about everywhere you look in New York, construction barriers become a magnet for posters. The first poster gets pasted up over the standard "Post No Bills" stencil, and from then on the site is free game for anyone with paper and some wheat paste. If the site is below Houston St., there's a chance that what goes up overnight will be interesting street art. If the site is above 23rd St., it's probably going to be advertising (if it's not advertising masquerading as street art).

When I stopped in Cambridge last week, I came across an interesting approach to institutionalizing the activity of posting bills on construction barricades.

A large building is now going up on a heavily trafficked street (above left) in the center of the city. For some reason (interest in art? civic pride? an attempt to keep graffiti and advertising off their barricade?), the developers have launched an interesting project by commissioning native Brit and Magnum photographer Martin Parr to take "portraits" of the city during the three years that this site will be under development. Over that period they will continually post Parr's work on the fence surrounding the job site.

The project isn't as easy as one might guess for a photographer like Parr who specializes in documenting the real (and unaesthetic) look of contemporary suburban life. Parr writes about the project:
I had not been to Cambridge for many years and was eagerly anticipating rediscovering the city. I was almost overwhelmed by how beautiful the city was and this is almost a disadvantage for a photographer. Everywhere you look you are in danger of photographing a cliche that could become a picture post card.
Martin Parr in CambridgeThe first several photographs posted (at right) do a fine job of avoiding cliche as they force city residents and visitors to stop for a moment and contemplate scenes that don't present the typical view of this picturesque city.

In upcoming months Parr will continue to visit and document the city, showing new work at this site until the building is complete and the barricades come down in 2008.

Related: Martin Parr's "Mobile Phones" project. (Warning: turn your speakers down before clicking.)

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