Magnum Photos: The Christmas Tree Bucket – Trent Parke’s brilliantly dark essay on modern living

Magnum Photos: The Christmas Tree Bucket - Trent Parke's brilliantly dark essay on modern living

Most people are familiar with traditional Christmas tales like Twas The Night Before Christmas. In this brilliantly dark, yet heartwarming, take on the Christmas story, Magnum Photos legend Trent Parke turns the camera on his own family to record the suburban rituals of Christmas. What began as a moment of clarity after vomiting into a Christmas tree bucket on his in-laws’ lawn, Parke’s photo essay reveals the absurdities that lurk in the suburban shadows.

Magnum Photos: The Christmas Tree Bucket - Trent Parke's brilliantly dark essay on modern living

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.

On arriving in Adelaide, with our life in storage, we bunkered 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.

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 - The Christmas Bucket

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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.

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.

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

Trent Parke - The Christmas Bucket

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Another flash.

And it was there, while staring into that bright red bucket, vomiting every hour on the hour, for 15 hours straight, that I started to think how strange, families, suburbia, life, vomit and in particular, Christmas…. really was.

Trent Parke - The Christmas Bucket

Trent Parke - The Christmas Bucket

Trent Parke - The Christmas Bucket

Trent Parke - The Christmas Bucket

In the video below, Trent Parke discusses his thoughts behind the Christmas Bucket project and how it was made.

Trent Parke was born in Newcastle, Australia, in 1971, and joined Magnum Photos in 2002, becoming a full member since 2007. Click here to see more of his images from the Christmas Bucket series, or click here to buy the book.


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