A new exhibition of portraits by photographer Martin Parr opened on Thursday featuring pictures of “Brexit Britain” captured since the country voted to leave the EU.
The display, at London’s National Portrait Gallery, spans Parr’s decades documenting the idiosyncrasies of mass culture and British identity, and includes previously unseen portraits of celebrities.
But it is also the first chance to see his latest project: photographs of Britons from the heartlands of anti-European Union sentiment, shot as a divided nation prepares to depart the bloc.
Parr focused in particular on the Brexit-backing West Midlands, Cornwall and Lincolnshire regions of England for the series.
“I’m photographing Britain all the time but when the referendum came, I thought I must go to areas that I knew were heavily voting for Brexit and see what was happening there,” he told at a preview of the exhibition.
“It’s about British identity and who we are at this time of potential change.”
Britons are pictured with their dogs, displaying patriotism on St George’s Day – an annual celebration for England’s patron saint– and on the wedding day of Prince Harry last year.
“It’s a very good metaphor about people’s fear of immigration, the whole thing of the Brexit issue,” Parr said in an accompanying video at the exhibition.
In it he admitted feeling angry at the referendum result and noted it provided an “incentive” to try to “capture the essence of Brexit- whatever it was”.
But the photographer told what he encountered was “business as normal” rather than some big shift.
“It’s no different to what I’ve been photographing for the last 35, 40 years,” he said.
“There’s not going to be a dramatic change, everything’s consistent — the St George’s Day parade was going on before the referendum vote.”
An assortment of his earlier work is also featured in “Only Human: Martin Parr”, which runs until May 27.
They include celebrity portraits never exhibited before, including legendary Brazilian footballer Pele resting his head on a ball and designer Vivienne Westwood standing next to a toilet.
But most of the images stick to Parr’s best-known topic: the British at play.
“I have a love-hate relationship with the British,” Parr confided.
“I love the country… the hate is from the bigotry, xenophobia that caused the Brexit vote.
“You can express that apparent contradiction very effectively by photographing it.”