As much as Martin Parr’s work is often associated with the home comforts of suburbia, his eye for the holiday is just as keen. In his latest book, Death by Selfie, he turns his lens on perhaps the defining tourist activity of the last decade. His series of candid – and at times bizarre – photographs of holidaymakers around the world, captures the ritual of self-shot smartphone portrait in all its earnest absurdity.
The book’s title takes inspiration from India, “the world leader for selfie taking”, by Parr’s reckoning. It’s a claim based in part on a macabre statistic around how many people have died as a result of taking selfies; either falling backwards from clifftops, edging too close to fires or being washed away by freak waves mid-picture. In 2015, 27 people died taking selfies in India. That figure rose to 68 in both 2016 and 2017. Parr’s theory follows that if more people have died due to selfie-taking in India than in anywhere else in the world, then there must be more selfie-taking going on in the first place.
Not that his book condemns the practice. In keeping with much of his work, Death by Selfie showcases the strangeness of the everyday with affection and humor. Over a phonecall, Parr discussed how selfie sticks have changed tourism, and the phenomenon of the smartphone self-portrait.