The commercial value of authenticity

This week we discovered that we’ve got new neighbours here at Paintworks. The Martin Parr Foundation has moved in just a few doors from our offices and we were lucky enough to attend a talk by Martin himself on ‘the commercial value of authenticity’ that was both entertaining and enlightening in equal measure.

 

Martin is known for his satirical approach to his subjects and particularly for examining the notion of class in Britain. While many will be aware of his artistic endeavours, this talk focused mainly on his commercial work for clients such as Lavazza, Kodak, and several fashion brands. We’re used to imagery from the advertising world showcasing picture perfect lives – flawless product shots and glossy model posed smiles – but with the advent of social media many brands have shifted away from this, striving instead to capture (and sell) ‘reality’. This in turn has created a demand for artists like Martin, who approach their subjects in a more candid way.

 

Authenticity has become a buzzword for marketers to be thrown around loosely, but can this kind of work ever be truly ‘authentic’ when there’s a product and lifestyle to sell? Martin discussed his take on this openly and humorously, explaining that while he is aware of the brief on jobs such as these, his primary instinct is to focus on making the art, rather than what a brand manager might want to say about a product. We suspect that when such a person commissions Martin Parr, they know what they’re getting – it won’t necessarily be glossy or what many in boardrooms like to refer to as ‘aspirational’ (but what actually means white, middle class, youthful, and usually highly sexualised). His images are often gritty and sometimes grotesque, but they provoke the viewer to look again and ask questions.

 

We came away feeling that however much brands like to wax lyrical about how ‘authentic’ they are, what they should be prepared for (certainly in the social media age) is for people to create their own stories about them and use them in ways they may not have thought of. And that’s ok. All you can do is provide great source material because, ultimately, once it’s gone out into the world, it belongs to everyone.

 

Find out more about the Martin Parr Foundation at martinparrfoundation.org