The Christmas Tree Bucket • Trent Parke • Magnum Photos

Magnum Pro

Editorial Cultural Commercial Search Image Archive

Welcome to the New Magnum Photos Site

Explore the award-winning storytelling work of Magnum photographers here, or head to Magnum Pro to search and license photos from Magnum’s acclaimed image archive.

CONTINUE TO NEW SITE
SEARCH PHOTO ARCHIVE IN MAGNUM PRO
Society

The Christmas Tree Bucket

Trent Parke's festive family album is an eerie, absurdist re-working of the conventional Christmas tale

Trent Parke

Trent Parke | The Christmas Tree Bucket Adelaide, Australia. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos

Christmas down under can often seem uncanny, with a traditional mid-winter festivity being celebrated in the heat of the Australian summer.

In his family album series “The Christmas Tree Bucket”, Magnum photographer Trent Parke plays on this inherent irony. Rejecting the tropes of Christmas revelry and instead amplifying the pervading sense of empty festive commercialism, Parkes hones in on the smaller details; the sun-crisp barbeques; screaming, fighting toddlers; a burning gingerbread house; the inertia of re-reading of the television guide; and the hanging, later decapitated, Santa Claus piñata. All nausea-inducing tokens of Christmas absurdism, which eventually culminate in the photographer himself vomiting into the infamous Christmas tree bucket.

Here, Parke gives us a first-hand, darkly surreal account of how the series was inspired by suburbia, a new haircut and a physical bout of existential Christmas dread.

Trent Parke Adelaide, South Australia. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos
Trent Parke Adelaide, South Australia. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos

On the 28th of November 2004, our first son Jem was born.  At the time my partner Narelle and I, lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment in Sydney. Apart from two years living in a tent, I had spent the last 15 years of my life living in apartment blocks.

On the 16th of October 2006 our second son Dash was born. Our small two-bedroom apartment became even smaller. Things had to change. Wanting more space, family support and a change of scenery we moved to the city of Adelaide, Narelle’s place of birth.

Trent Parke Adelaide, South Australia. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos
Trent Parke Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. 2006. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos

On arriving in Adelaide, with our life in storage, we bunked down with Narelle’s folks while we tried to find a place to live. Like my parents in Newcastle, they live in the suburbs.

One afternoon I decided to venture to the local mega mall, specifically to the hairdresser. After removing all of my very long hair the very young hairdresser said ‘There you go, a new hair cut for a new start’. I thought, that’s nice and what a great thing it was to be able to see again.

Trent Parke | The Christmas Tree Bucket Adelaide, Australia. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos

On returning to the in-laws that evening I started to feel very odd and a little queasy. As day turned to night I lay down on the freshly mown back lawn and watched clouds drift past a nearly full moon. I expected to hear a dog howl or a cat wail.

I started vomiting, violently, and uncontrollably. I grabbed the nearest thing I could throw up into.

Trent Parke New South Wales, Newcastle, Australia. 2006. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos
Trent Parke Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos
Trent Parke Yarrawonga, Victoria, Australia. 2006. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos
Trent Parke Seaton, Adelaide, South Australia. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos

"As day turned to night I lay down on the freshly mown back lawn and watched clouds drift past a nearly full moon. I expected to hear a dog howl or a cat wail"

- Trent Parke

Narelle and her parents, Laurie and Ann were sitting in the back room watching the TV. ‘Narelle’ I yelled out, again throwing up.

‘What’ she said, ‘You want me to come out and photograph you?’. ‘Yeah’ I yelled back.

‘Ohh you’ve got to be joking’ Laurie gasped, as he rose from his chair.

Trent Parke Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. 2006. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos
Trent Parke | The Christmas Tree Bucket Adelaide, Australia. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos
Trent Parke Adelaide, Australia. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos
Trent Parke Adelaide, South Australia. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos

Narelle came out and climbed on to a table. The sudden blast of the flash lit up what I could smell, but couldn’t see. Bright, brilliant, red.

Ann joined the crowd gathering to see the show. Another flash. Bright, brilliant, red.

" I started to think how strange, families, suburbia, life, vomit and in particular Christmas…. really was"

- Trent Parke
Trent Parke Seaton, Adelaide, South Australia. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos
Trent Parke | The Christmas Tree Bucket Adelaide, Australia. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos
Trent Parke | The Christmas Tree Bucket Adelaide, Australia. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos

Ann yells, ‘Ohhh Laurie he’s vomiting into the Christmas tree bucket!’  Another flash.

And it was there while staring into that bright red bucket, vomiting every hour on the hour, for fifteen hours straight, that I started to think how strange, families, suburbia, life, vomit and in particular Christmas…. really was.

Trent Parke Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. Seaton. 2007. © Trent Parke | Magnum Photos