You know how it is, when you stumble across the 29th series of Big Brother or I’m an Arsehole, Get Me Out of Here and your mind wanders to thoughts of finding the person responsible for inventing reality TV and doing things to them with a car battery and a set of jump leads? Oh come on, don’t deny it. We all have those thoughts. Don’t we? Well anyway, we’re not pointing the finger of blame directly at photographer Martin Parr of course, but he was the stills photographer on Signs of the Times, a 1991 BBC programme which could be seen as one of the early forerunners of reality TV, and his work on the show is now the subject of an exhibition at Beetles + Huxley Gallery, London.
Directed by Parr’s colleague Nick Barker, Signs of the Times was the result of a request for volunteers to participate in a fly-on-the-wall documentary crossed with Through the Keyhole. Fifty people were chosen from the 2,000 applicants, and became accidental stars with their unwittingly comedic observations on life. Each of Parr’s photographs is titled with a classic utterance from the subjects; there’s the social climbers ornamenting the light switches for We wanted a cottagey stately home kind of feel, the frustrated home-improvers in We keep buying things thinking ‘that’ll look better’ and it just doesn’t, and the down-trodden parents of To come home in the evenings to find the kids have carried out their own form of anarchy is just about the last thing I can face. The exhibition is airing from 16 July to 30 August.