This Week In Photography Books: Trent Parke

by Jonathan Blaustein

I used to have an Aussie friend named Pappy. We met when I was still impressionable, and were the best of mates for nearly 15 years. He looked like a pirate and drank like a Marine, so I did too.

Having an Australian wingman is kind of like having a criminal for an accountant. You might feel proud of yourself, for putting one over on the powers that be, but in the end, it’s not likely to work out very well. Australia is a culture in which drinking, partying, fighting and meat-binging are the norm.

Think about that for a second. All cultures have their oddities. Like the French and their extra-marital affairs, or the Puritans with their hatred of dancing. That’s part of what makes a culture distinct, as we’ve discussed here previously.

But an entire country, nay, Continent, filled with the descendants of law-breakers, all of whom like to get wasted and crash motorcycles? Can you imagine? What would that look like?

I’m so glad you asked.

I’ve just put down “The Christmas Tree Bucket,” by the Australian photographer Trent Parke, so we have a good chance to peek in on things. The book was published by Steidl, which does make me wonder what the production meetings might have looked like. (Perhaps some pursed German lips at the sight of such class-less behavior?)

The title refers to the bucket kept around, presumably, to be grabbed by the next person to vomit on Christmas. At the very least, we do get one photo of the putative subject filled with vile goop. (Has anyone started a satirical Gwyneth Paltrow blog with that title yet? Vile goop?)

One can only imagine the subtitle, “Trent Parke’s Family Album” is a truthful moniker. In which case, the many excellent photos within give us an inkling of what life is like at that time of year. The dude in the Borat suit in front of the open swimming pool reminds that Christmas comes in summer Down Under, and that’s enough to make your head spin. (As opposed the the bed spins. Which I’m sure were in evidence here too.)

Meat on the grill, dead mice on the floorboards, screaming kids, oddly placed blow up dolls, denuded Christmas trees: it’s all here. The run of pictures where everyone’s sleeping was a particular favorite. Great rhythm.

There are a lot of photos in the book, and they all have that hipsterish-off-kilter vibe. The awkwardness of a record store clerk who knows so much about esoteric music, but can’t quite figure out how to ask a girl out. So what does he do? He downs a bottle of Jack Daniels and drives to her house, where he sits in the driveway, idling the car, and scaring the bejeezus out of her dad, who comes out with a shotgun after 45 minutes of wondering who the asshole is on his driveway.

Sorry. I got off topic. That doesn’t actually happen here. But if it did, I’m guessing the father wouldn’t wait 45 minutes to see what’s going on. He’d come out after 90 seconds, with a baseball bat, pull the dude out of his car, beat him senseless, and then ask what the hell he was doing there anyway. Goodonya.

Bottom Line: Absurd Aussie take on Christmas in summer

To Purchase “The Christmas Tree Bucket” Visit Photo-Eye

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Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

There Are 5 Comments On This Article.

  1. Jonathon, I think I’m offended by your article. It’s obvious you haven’t been to Australia and regretful that you say a thing like ‘Australia is a culture in which drinking, partying, fighting and meat-binging are the norm.’ If I based my impression of the United States on frat party movies, I could assume the same thing. Luckily I don’t. Please stop perpetuating false stereotypes.

  2. These pictures are very different from what I’m accustomed to seeing (think Dream/ Life and Minutes to Midnight) but I like it. I’ll be purchasing a copy or two to give later in the year. :)

  3. Hi Jonathan,

    must say I do agree with the first comment above; thank you for perpetuating the trope of law breaking hard drinking and wild Australia. It’s all true, thank goodness I was born in and raised in the manner of the free settler state of South Australia where no convicts were allowed. But enough history.

    I met and photographed Trent at Stills Gallery in the Wilds of Sydney’s eastern suburbs a few years back and his wife too! And if you happen to be in Sydney Australia right now and not throwing up in a bucket you can catch Trent’s current exhibition there right now!

    Here’s the story of my meeting Trent, http://streetfashionsydney.blogspot.com.au/2009/10/big-avo-out.html

    PS don’t do a Google image search on Trent Parke unless you want to surrender your cameras!