On a cold Monday evening, there’s a buzz happening in the bowels of Tower Bridge, in more ways than one. The inner workings of the great landmark are whirring away as usual, but there’s also a buzz around the opening of Martin Parr’s latest photography exhibition. Swans Gloves Roses and Pancakes showcases the result of his time spent as photographer in residence for the City of London. It’s the second of such events, in the ‘Unseen City’ series. The first was back in March.
Parr’s work focuses on the array of traditional, usually odd ceremonies which take place in the capital. One such example is Swan Upping – an annual occurrence where people count and mark the number of swans on the Thames. There is something daft about these particular images, which see men dressed in finery mucking in to do the type of job more suited to overalls. In a Q&A at the opening, Parr himself said “contradictions are my livestock.”
Parr’s photographs are fairly straightforward. They’re not given any treatment and there’s no sepia or black and white. The beauty is in their simplicity. None of the subjects are posing, but at the same time it isn’t as if Parr has caught them off guard. He just shoots from the hip, documenting the moment as truthfully as possible.
Mostly the subject is the occasion itself, but sometimes the lens is turned on members of the public. You get a sense of some peoples love and dedication to the monarchy, through their willingness to weather the elements to catch a glimpse of them. Humour runs throughout the show. One image shows a pair of boots standing alone. It’s as if the owner has died, leaving behind only his shoes in the same way that soldiers do in old films. Parr remarks that “The British are very funny…we’re a great subject matter.”
The images are rich. The colourful costumes really pop out at you. One striking picture is of a man covered in patriotic badges, waiting out in the rain. He has a severe expression, suggesting deep reverence for the occasion at hand.
The Knollys Rose Ceremony is up there with the most quirky of the events covered. Every year a single red rose is taken from the oldest church in the City and presented to the Lord Mayor on an altar cushion. Pomp and ceremony adorns the walls beneath the bridge and is very much the order of the day.
Don’t miss your chance to see Swans Gloves Roses and Pancakes at Tower Bridge Engine Rooms. It’s on until 31st March.