Muhammad Ali to Michael Hutchence: Martin Parr's Richard and Famous hits Open Eye

By Ben Miller | 27 February 2012
A photo of a woman looking glamorous in a foam bath in a bathroom
Simone Lueck, Francine in the living room (2009). From The Once and Future Queens© Simone Lueck
Exhibition: Richard and Famous, Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, until March 18 2012

It’s a truth and, more often than not, a drag to see society’s infatuation with all things celebrity. Starting out as an eager kid in 1989 (next to a dead-eyed Boris Becker) and ending on a similar racket-thwacking note under the heavy eyebrows of Roger Federer last year, Richard Simpkin has amassed more than 1,000 pictures of himself posing with celebrities from all spheres.

In 1990, he spent months hanging out with INXS (he describes Michael Hutchence as the most charismatic sleb he ever met, and they remained friends until the singer’s suicide in 1997), but by the end of these walls of snaps, Simpkin is only noticeable for his gentle ageing (lack of hair, beard, glasses).

Perhaps the luminaries, too, become faded. In the same way their plaques on a walk of fame look the same, so their positions in Simpkin’s template make them just another face.

It instantly resonates, not least to anyone bemused by the same old paparazzi photos perpetuated in all those glossy dentist’s surgery magazines. Even if you strain to overlook the comic (and deeper) value of Simpkin’s obsession with the rich and the famous, the magnitude of his star shadowing is surely to be applauded.

Conversely, Los Angeles-based Simone Lueck brings out the glamour. In 2009, Lueck posted an ad on go-to website Craigslist, appealing for “fabulous, striking, interesting older women” to pose as glamorous movie stars.

The results were, indeed, fabulous, but also saucy (a Brigitte Bardot impressionist in a foaming bath tub), hilarious (a scantily-clad, bob-haired siren pouting atop a fireplace) and heartfelt (a lady nibbling at her finger, gripping a rug, clad in a sequinned gold and black dress). You will not forget these smouldering self-portraits.

Martin Parr, as any betting visitor might have guessed, has curated these shows, and his contribution consolidates their themes. Drawn from his trips to flea markets and thrift shops, Painted Photographs showcases slapdash early attempts to photoshop publicity shots.

They are ruthless in axing bystanders from the annals of history, so John Lennon’s family, Marilyn Monroe’s co-stars, Muhammad Ali’s police escorts and Katie the Poodle’s young owner all have their faces crossed out in red daub. The cropped depictions of the chosen big-hitters are then painted over by their media suitors.

These unsubtle retouchings give them a twang of the hyper-real, a rich reward for the hours Parr – the master of heightening the mundane – has spent searching for them.

  • Open 10.30am-5.30pm Tuesday-Sunday. Admission free.

More pictures:

A photo of a man standing next to a glamorous female celebrity in a fur coat
Richard Simpkin, Joan Collins (2010). From the series Richard and Famous 1989-2011© Richard Simpkin
A photo of a man putting his hand round the shoulder of a male celebrity in a suit
Richard Simpkin, Jack Nicholson (2007). From the series Richard and Famous (1989-2011)© Richard Simpkin
A photo of a woman looking glamorous on a bright day outside a window to a house
Simone Lueck, Sharon at the Front Door (2009)© Simone Lueck
A black and white photo of a celebrity arriving at an airport surrounded by security
Muhammad Ali. From the private collection of Martin Parr© Martin Parr
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