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February 22, 2021

Candid Portraits of British Drivers in 1994

When it comes to the car, drivers willingly give spontaneous, virtually automatic explanation – we could call ‘structural stories’ – to justify their use of it. (Freudendal–Pedersen, 2009).
In spite of the passing landscapes, motorways and drivers with their hair blowing in the wind, these photographs look deeply at the issue of social mobility. British photographer Martin Parr emphasizes social mobility to show its close correlation to travel made possible by use of a car. With this work, he revisits the social structure of English society, showing both its vertical and horizontal dimensions.

Horizontally, statements by drivers reveal how they take on a unique role behind the wheel. Even though people often play a role in their daily lives outside of the car, this role immediately becomes more intense upon contact with the later. Women described enjoying games of seduction in their cars, which offer a safe, protected environment. Men saw their company cars as symbols of their social status and rank within the company hierarchy.

Vertically speaking, the photos reveal the success and social ascension long addressed by classic sociology. The magnitude of the car’s social role makes this necessary. In such a context, alternative modes are categorically eliminated from among the possibilities. Thus does the artist reveal social spaces wherein altermobilities have very little chance of emerging.

Born in 1952, photographer Martin Parr – himself the son an amateur photographer – has authored many works in his field. He has likewise distinguished himself as an editor (of his numerous exhibitions), a professor and a documentary film production assistant. With his unique, frank view on British society, his work - what one could call a ‘social documentary’ - has earned him international recognition and acclaim.

“I feel that other women on the road react to me in a nasty hostile sort of way. For some reason this hate comes across. I mean, I give way to them so why don’t they give way to me.”

Driving in a convertible with cuddly toys on the dash board. 

“I like to think I’m quite successful because I’ve got a Cavalier 2 litre GLi. I sell industrial packaging machines – something with a bit of esteem not like Derek in Coronation Street who sells novelty items out of a bloody suitcase.”

“As far as my social life is concerned, the Metro is a no-go area. I think I’d look so much better sat in an XR2.”

G.B. ENGLAND. 1994.

“If you want to drive from A to B and feel perfectly safe with no-one looking at you, don’t drive an MX5.”

“I don’t like the idea of a woman’s car because that usually implies it’s small, compact, not very powerful and plenty of room for shopping. I want something that is going to do two hundred miles down the M4, thank you.”

“Since I’ve been driving I’ve been either going out with my husband or I’ve been married. This is the first time I’ve driven a brand new car that I wanted, and it suddenly dawned on me that I was no longer married.”

“Now that I’ve got the BMW I know that I fit in. I can get into a winebar in Hampstead, a restaurant in Mayfair and a pub in Hackney.”

“When I first bought the car I couldn’t wait to catch a reflexion of myself in a shop window. It’s terribly embarrassing to admit but I really enjoyed seeing myself in the car.”

“I think the best of me are my legs and obviously when I’m in the car people can’t see them. But I do like men to stare from time to time.”

“I drive an Astra CDi and I’m a National Business Development Manager for a company that manufactures jams, marmalades, gourmet accompaniments and food gifts.”

“When I’m on the motorway I don’t day-dream. I’m usually thinking of the fuel range I’ve got on board and where my next Little Chef stop will be. They really do have all the things a rep needs.”

“I tend to daydream and drift away and imagine I’m driving something a little better. You have to drift away in this car otherwise you’d go mad.”

G.B. ENGLAND. 1994.

“I think people generally assume that if you're in a Sierra or a Cavalier you’re a rep racing to get home early for his tea. Whereas if you’re driving a BMW you're an important executive on his way to another important meeting.”

“When I say ‘When are we there Dad?’, he says ‘Oh, we’ll be there in about five minutes’ and then it takes us about an hour.”

“The Burger King car park is where everyone hangs out. I’m young, I’m single, I’m having fun before it’s too late. I’ve got the rest of my life to be old.”

“I can’t show off my friends because, without trying to sound obnoxious, they’re sort of staggeringly rich and have absurd cars. So I did want to keep my end up slightly and I thought the Clio 16v was good enough to get by on.”

G.B. ENGLAND. 1994.

“Ken’s slow. I think it’s his age. When we’re driving on the motorway everything belts past us and he’s chugging along at fifty-five on the inside lane.”

“After the car the next thing my parents bought for me was a portable phone which they insisted I had in the car in case of emergency. And also to tell them if I was going to be late home.”

“I drive a rather excellent BMW 735i. It’s dark black, fully loaded, executive autobahn express. My wife drives a rather diminutive Fiat Panda which is best not described.”

G.B. ENGLAND. 1994.

“I suppose we’ve always got this dream about selling the house and just taking off. In an ordinary car we’d probably get as far as the ferry and come back. But with a Land Rover we could pack everybody in it and just go.”

(Images © Martin Parr, From A to B, Tales of Modern Motoring, Londres, BBC Books, 1994)


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