Martin Parr has said of his photobook, Common Sense, that it was was one of his finer achievements that had been somewhat overlooked. As an exhibition, it had been shown worldwide simultaneously at a number of venues.
As a book, it is striking in it’s absence of text. There is no introduction or even the usual publishing notes (these are found on the back cover) merely a photograph which appears to be a close up of some kind of sound equipment containing knobs, one of which says volume and the other tempo; this image replaces what might have been a list of chapters headings and invites us to enjoy the book as a sensory experience.
Looking through the pages of images (each photograph is a close-up and occupies its’ page without any border) one may feel overwhelmed by the banality of the image to the point of nausea. However, if one does continue looking through the pages one might find oneself laughing at the ludicrousness of it all.
If one looks through the book more than once and continues to look at it, one might start to see just how well it is constructed and become aware of the way it has been put together. The images are of commonplace objects (as suggested by the title) and there is the use of diptychs, each double paged spread is composed of one photograph playing off against another; this helps to create a dialogue so that the book starts to speak to one through the imagery.
There are some memorable images in this book such as a cup of tea on a red chequered table cloth, a number of images of painted cakes often containing faces, while the cover shows a map of the world on a metal globe in which a rusty slot can be seen for accepting coins; this idea of the planet as some giant money box is one of the stronger images yet similar puns can be read in the rest of the book.
“Common Sense” is a book that can be looked at and looked at again; in fact, it is a book that can be read almost like a book of poetry although it may not inspire one in the way poetry does.
Would it be presumptous to describe this book as a post-modernist book and Parr as a post-modern photographer?