Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
May 8, 2015

Militarism and Race as Martin Parr Does the Derby

Having shot plenty of horse races, Martin Parr lightened his bucket list by finally making it to Churchill Downs this year. Dispatched to the Kentucky Derby by TIME, the publication posted 15 pictures by photography’s great parodist. Of course, it’s brimming with hats, and the affluent looking obscenely smug, and the social aspirants exposed for their ambition. It seems, though, that some of the trappings Parr hangs his own hat on are unusually political.

I don’t think horse racing is anywhere close to the military confection that football or car racing is. Still, here we are, the good life approaching the dock. But you’ve got to love what’s happening from the ears up, the black-and-white officer’s hats not just harmonize with the woman’s straw, but backing it up like a quartet. What is also sort of chilling, though (aren’t U.S. and Iranian warships circling each other as we speak?), is the headdress doubling as a bulls-eye.

And then, race hardening into America’s great divide, is this further deliciousness from Parr, in the gap and in its mirroring, one classy portrait of two Americas?

(photos: Martin Parr/Magnum for TIME. captions: USA. Kentucky Derby. 2015.)

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