The English Way – Photos by Martin Parr, Text by Kate Fox
A Nation of Closet Patriots
Looking at these patriotic images, what strikes me immediately is how unusual they are. To capture them, Martin must have waited patiently—like a wildlife photographer hoping for some shy nocturnal creature to emerge—as patriotic displays like this are a rare sight among the English. Only a tiny minority of us ever indulge in such public displays of national pride, and even this minority only do so on very special occasions.
In fact, it is often said that the English suffer from a lack of patriotic feeling. And there is some evidence to support this claim: English people, on average, rate their degree of patriotism at just 5.8 out of 10, according to a European survey, far below the self-rated patriotism of the Scots, Welsh, and Irish, and the lowest of all the European nations. Our national day, Saint George’s Day, is on April 23, but surveys regularly show that at least two-thirds of us are completely unaware of this occasion. Can you imagine a similar number of Americans being oblivious to the Fourth of July, or Irish people ignoring St. Patrick’s Day?
Based on my ethnographic research, however, I had a hunch that our reluctance to engage in public patriotic displays may be related to what I would call “hidden rules of Englishness,” rather than an absence of national pride. So I conducted my own national survey, just before Saint George’s Day, asking what I felt were more subtle questions about patriotic feelings. The results confirmed my impression that we are actually a nation of “closet patriots.”
My findings showed that the vast majority (83 percent) of English people feel at least some sense of patriotic pride: 22 percent “always,” 23 percent “often,” and 38 percent at least “sometimes” feel proud to be English.
When we first saw the line up for the new photo show opening tomorrow at the Aperture Foundation Gallery, simply titled Photography, we fell out of our chairs. The show features new (new!) work from William Eggleston, Nan Goldin, Ryan McGinley, Martin Parr, Terry Richardson, and Stephen Shore. You don’t have to be a photo nerd to know that this selection of artists are some of the most important photographers making work today. To have new work by them all in one room is crazy. We decided we had to sit down with Ken Miller, the curator of the show, to figure out how he pulled it off. Turns out it was pretty simple.
VICE: What’s up, Ken? How did this project start?
Ken Miller: It started with a sort of unrelated exhibition of abstract photography that I did in Tokyo about a year and a half ago. That was kind of a weird way for it to begin. It was a show with Sam Falls, Marcelo Gomes, Mariah Robertson, and this Japanese photographer named Taisuke Koyama. Somebody from Fujifilm came by and I guess they liked the show, so they got in touch. They took me out to drinks and showed me these cameras they were coming out with and were like “Do you think you could get photographers to use these?” The cameras were really nice, so I was like, “Yeah probably, it’s a free camera.”
We started putting a list of photographers together. I was initially thinking of people I’d worked with before, who seemed easy to approach. Then I thought, Fuck it. I’ll just ask ambitiously and worst comes to worst, they’ll say no. And amazingly, basically everybody said yes. Of the initial people we asked, only two passed for different reasons. It was remarkably easy.
That’s pretty amazing.
I don’t want to sound like an advertisement for the camera, but it’s a digital SLR that works like the camera you studied in college. It has a lot of manual functions. So, I think there’s a certain nostalgia for a lot of these photographers who think “Oh, this works like a classic point-shoot Nikon” and they were psyched about that. You sort of forget photographers are camera nerds too, so they wanted to try it out.