Fifteen Minutes with Martin Parr

There are many things I love about my friend Anya. One of her best qualities is that she regards art as an emergency and a necessity. I got an urgent message from her a few weeks ago, attached to an Instagram post from Martin Parr, or should I say @martinparrstudio. For one day, to benefit his Foundation, he was planning a pop-up portrait studio in Bristol:

"Bring your cats, dogs, family, partner, friends, colleagues or cherished possessions and stand in front of the lens of Martin Parr. Your very own signed photograph will be available the following week."

Anya was thinking of going, but the limited appointments were fast disappearing! She thought I would want to know. I had a little squeal and a bounce up and down, and called Tom at the office to see if I could talk him into it. We both like Martin Parr's work. He captures his subjects' quirks, for better and worse. His photos are terribly revealing. What would a Martin Parr family portrait be like? I was dying to know. Could we drag the kids all the way to Bristol on a Saturday in late November?

We have some friends who have been lucky enough to have their families photographed by Elsa Dorfman, with her large format Polaroid camera. When a family goes for a session with her, she takes two photographs and they choose one. On her website, she acknowledges that her subjects are "people who accept themselves." One of these families that we know has their massive polaroid by Elsa Dorfman hanging in their kitchen. In it, their sons are about 4 and 6. Now they are in their mid-thirties, one of them with a son of his own. I'm sure it seemed like a pain and a risk they day they went in to do it. And equally sure they have never regretted it for a moment.

Tom was game. We booked our session for 11:30 but of course, on the day, it was pouring with rain. I was just starting antibiotics for a terrible case of bronchitis. No one really wanted to truck up to Bristol, but in the end we were thrilled that we did.

Every single person working at the Martin Parr Foundation was kind and welcoming in the extreme. There were dozens of excited families (and some very well behaved kids) milling around waiting for their sessions. There was tea and biscuits. People had brought their dogs and toys of all descriptions. Another friend of Anya's had arrived with her husband and daughter and their tandem bicycle. Their prop was by far the coolest we saw.

While we were waiting, we ended up chatting with Maroussia Dubreuil, a journalist from Le Monde, about Brexit. And then Martin Parr wandered over and started teasing our son, Henry, in the exact way that three-year-old boys love. He pretended to eat Henry's Cheerios, tried to take his stuffed monkey, and won him over in about 10 seconds.

So, when it was our turn in front of the camera, it only took about 3 minutes to get everyone to stop looking nervous and start being real. I asked Martin Parr whether it is harder to get a toddler or a dog to cooperate for the camera. He said they are about the same--but cats are the worst. I noticed he used similar tactics with the kids and the dogs, joviality and a squeaky ball. He was making everyone laugh by asking them to say, "cheesy pancakes!"

When it was time to choose a photo to take home, we couldn't choose just one and ended up with three. They will arrive next week, and we couldn't be more thrilled with them, and with the whole experience. It was magic. And let's face it: magic is really what is needed when you have two young kids who have been cooped up in the car all morning, a sick and irritable Mama, a Dad who has been driving for 2 1/2 hours in the rain and is about to turn around and do it again. (And they never regretted it for a moment...)

The icing on the cake was seeing a photograph of Martin Parr taking our picture in Le Monde today! Clementine Schneiderman, the photographer from Le Monde, had a gorgeous Leica, a winning smile for the kids and was generous with her time. I didn't take a single photo myself on the day--too busy meeting interesting people like her--so this is really nice to have. And thanks again to Anya (@anyamackessy), without whom we would have had our standard rainy Saturday watching cups of tea chill on the coffee table, instead of this big adventure.

photo by Clementine Shneidermann @clementineschneider on Instagram

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