Only Human at The National Portrait Gallery – London

On a grim morning, zombie-walking to the tube, something grabbed my attention. An explosion of colour in the middle of the very greige city. A bright poster for Martin Parr’s Only Human exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery. It looked interesting and like the perfect thing to do during an April rainy weekend.

That evening, I booked tickets online, and thank god I did! Even the queue to pick up the tickets on site was fairly long, so I would definitely recommend reserving in advance to not be left disappointed.

Martin Parr's Only Human exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery

Martin Parr is a photographer who specialised in environmental portrait. He observes people, identify a subject and ask them to stop and pose.

Martin Parr's Only Human exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery

The people gather to enter the exhibition by the giant sign which very purposely includes one of Marting Parr pictures of women queuing.

Martin Parr's Only Human exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery

The scene is set, this is an immersive experience. You come to see pictures of people but you are also reminded that you are very much one of them.

Martin Parr's Only Human the swimmers

A room dedicated to parties invites you to join the celebrations with a disco ball spinning as you watch people dancing and drinking.

Martin Parr's Only Human exhibition disco ball
Martin Parr's Only Human parties

Another one takes you to an overcrowded beach with lounge chairs. Among the densely packed scenes, Martin Parr was able to approach his subjects and isolate small details you would normally never notice.

Martin Parr's Only Human ice cream van

Just like Martin Parr, this exhibition doesn’t take itself too seriously. In his own words: “Humans are weird! We are weird and do weird things!”

An entire section questions what it means to be British in the time of Brexit.

Martin Parr's Only Human English and proud

There you will see two muslim women managing a fish and chips shop. High society students gathering for a quintessentially British afternoon tea, while working class families celebrate St George day in the Black Country.

Martin Parr's Only Human fish and chips
Martin Parr's Only Human tea cup

It highlights what the UK is all about: diversity, community and a good party.

I also love how Martin Parr embraced the art of tourist photography and gave this, sometimes forgotten and often unkindly judge, niche a minute of fame.

Martin Parr's Only Human tourist portraits

The wall with all his portraits taken on trips is fascinating and comical. He moves from one absurd situation to another while highlighting the aesthetic ideals of the different countries.

Martin Parr's Only Human French beach

Martin Parr’s Only Human exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery is a welcome emotional and (sometimes) comic relief. A breath of fresh air and burst of colours in a very sad grey world. It also reminds us all that, by the end of the day, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously because really… we are only human.

Only Human by Martin Parr is on until the 27th of May 2019.

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