Trent Parke - The Christmas Tree Bucket
There are a great number of photographers that I admire of course. There are few that I idolise just a little. Parke is one of these, so writing about his work is a little intimidating. Of course he is loved by many in a way that is likely genre neutral, but its not the way others feel about his work that makes penning something about his books difficult for me, its my personal feelings.
There are times when getting words out about something that touches someone at such a personal level is harder than writing about something that is still great, but on a very different level. I said some similar words when I initially wrote about Daido Moriyama. And in a similar vein for my first post to review a Parke book I am going to review that one that sits slightly left of center of the 'Parke norm',
I own 3 books by Parke. They are the recent (and hence affordable publications). If I ever woke on a Christmas morning and found a copy of Dreamlife or The Seventh Wave under the tree I would be a very lucky boy, but the used market prices are even beyond insane... I should write a list sometime of books that are so far out of reach financially to a normal person and see if we can push for some reprints. Sobols Sabine would be another high on that list. Bloody high contrast black and white Magnum artists and their defining books!
With Minutes to Midnight and the exhibition book from The Black Rose being the other two Parke books I have on my shelf, The Christmas Tree Bucket is the one I feel is the slight departure for Parke, and hence the book I have selected for the first review.
Colour is the obvious thing that separates it from the other books by Parke, but there is more to it than that. All of Parkes work is highly personal, and its likely one of the biggest contributors to his success as an image maker. The Christmas Tree Bucket however is more overt in its personal nature. Family time at Christmas is something the Western world as a whole would relate to on some level, either positive or negative.
The selection of images in Christmas Tree Bucket depict what any average Australian at least could easily relate to when thinking about what Christmas with their family reminds them of. This adds the the success of the book. Not only is Parke able to insert enough about himself and his very normal family for the book to have a family holiday album kind of feel to it, but he is able to do so in a way that most readers are able to relate to the work in some way personally, thus drawing them into the images ever more.
Some of the images have an almost creepy surreal feeling to them. This is where Parkes unique eye comes into its own. That ability to suss out the surreal in what would otherwise be the normal everyday is something anyone that spends time walking round with a camera slung over their shoulder strives for. So removed from the contrived and prefabricated world of studio image making, this is the game where you patiently sit and wait, or walk and wander to find the images you are after, something many struggle to undertake in their own home town, let alone in their family home. The fact that Parke has been able to publish a book using images from 'under his nose' should be a bit of a wake up call to people that complain about seeing the same things everyday and lacking motivation to shoot (including me).
Some of these I am sure incorporate a little trickery and play on the fact that the still image is a moment in time with an open ended invite to the viewer to assume what they will about the scene unfolding in front of the lens. Its so fun as a viewer when images allow this. Asking questions with no answer other than the multiple suggestions that the readers mind can consider.
I considered if I should spoil the image above a little, so skip this paragraph if you dont want to know. I just asked my wife who is sitting next to me what she thought was going on here after giving some context of the book (story of a family Christmas...). Instant reply, guys had too much to drink and thats why his sick. I dont know if this response says more about our family, or Australian Christmas celebrations in general. Either way, the assumption was made based on the contextual information available to the viewer. My understanding is food poisoning is the real entertaining factor in the image. No where near as drmatic and the brain always wants that small amount of drama.
The sequence is also masterful. The story telling of single images in the set is really quite outstanding in its own right, but together the book has this flow that really is unique and very overtly purposeful. Another skill of a master, but I also have to wonder if the nature of the subject matter and the intense personal involvement of the artist in the content would make this task a little easier.
Even though the book is a removal from the standard high contrast black and white world that is signature Parke, I cant recommend the book highly enough. Most of us as humans are influenced by hype that is generated from marketing and online forums, maybe even more so in the world of photography unfortunately. At the time of the release of this book Minutes to Midnight was released as well. It was Minutes that stole the limelight at the time. This maybe hurt Christmas Tree Bucket a little. as far as sales go. Due to this, while first editions of Minutes were selling for 5 times what they were worth, you were still able to get copies of Christmas Tree from the RRP.
The book is still readily available. Granted it doesnt have the hype of something like Dreamlife, or the marketting and online crazy that drove Minutes to sell the way it did, but its no lesser book that either of the first two titles, and is in someways better. If youre looking to buy a little piece of Parke himself printed on some pages, I dont think you can look further that Christmas Tree Bucket.