Martin Parr (1952 − )
As a child Martin Parr spent Saturdays going bird-watching with his father. Their usual haunt was a stretch of land along the River Mole by Hersham Sewage Works in Surrey, a fertile source for wildlife. The ultimate nerdy hobby, bird-watching supplied the yet-to-be photographer with a transferable skill set, including stillness, patience and a beady-eyed concentration: 'When I went on these trips, and my parents were leading the bird-watchers, I would of course be watching the bird-watchers.'( )
The earliest photograph by Martin Parr in the British Council Collection, Passing Naturalists, Pagham Harbour (1973), black and white, was taken when Parr was just 21, not a far remove from those bird-watching weekends. Two men, both in windcheaters, woolly hats and wellington boots, with knapsacks strapped to their backs, stride past each other down a country path in opposite directions; neither shows any sign of acknowledgement. The landscape in the distance is gentle enough: a flat horizon is dotted with oak trees like the bobbles atop the walkers' hats. And yet the grasses in the foreground have been swept and bleached into a distraught state by the wind; it is a determined species that chooses to stalk nature on such a day.
Martin Parr was born in Chessington in Surrey, and as a teenager lived in Ashstead near Epsom, the small market town which in the Victorian period boomed as a grand day out at the races. Dickens found Derby Day a feast for people-watching: 'a population surges and rolls and scrambles through the place, that may be counted in millions.'( ) So too Parr has found the British populace, in all their surging and rolling, pastimes, celebrations - and boredom - to be a rewarding subject. His earliest projects included photographing inmates at Prestwich Mental Hospital; taking portraits of the residents of the 'real' Coronation Street (the cult British soap opera), in Salford near Manchester; and working as a photographer at Butlins holiday camp, for which he was posted to the cheap 'n' cheerful destination of Filey on Yorkshire's east coast.
He started photographing the traditions of the north, drawn to unexpected moments. The
Traditions, Hobbies, pastimes, boredom management strategies: these are classic Parr territory, and for his medium he has hobbyists to thank. Camera clubs and the Royal Photographic Society, set up in the 19th century to support exhibitions and debates, made photography available to a broader middle class in the 20th century. Parr's grandfather was a keen amateur photographer, and holidays with him up in Yorkshire were a decisive factor in his move towards photography. The pair went on trips around the region, with cameras instead of binoculars, and his grandfather was keen to share the excitement of developing prints in the darkroom.
On his Butlins sojourn in Filey, a town in decline, like Bridlington, Scarborough, Skegness or Whitby, Parr started a lifelong collection of the highly coloured, kitsch postcards made by John Hinde. Photography supplied picture postcards and studio portraits and served as a documentary tool long before being recognised as a fine art and as well as the influences of American colour photographers William Eggleston and Garry Winograd, Parr's work remains indebted to this heritage. Whereas the conventional terrain of photojournalism or reportage had been to document the extremely rich or extremely poor (and generally, to look at the latter with sympathy), by the 1970s, Britain was dominated by the middle class, and Parr takes a different attitude. Introducing colour was a shift from the 'unmitigated affection' he expressed in his black and white work, to a more critical position:
'I don't have a problem with the fact that I'm middle class going to photograph the working class. I think there's this rather precious approach that if you're middle class you can't go and criticise the working class, and certainly my photographs have a critical bite to them.( )
Parr refocuses the tacky seaside postcard for the Thatcher era in his portfolio The Last Resort (1983-85), 40 photographs looking at a run-down seaside resort outside Liverpool. Parr's image of a beauty pageant adopts the saturated look in a knowing way. Three blonds wait to make their entrance, as if from a bygone era: in glorious colour, their tans are set against white swimsuits and the crumpled shirt and brown trousers of the photographer in the foreground, the pot plants and bunting. Perhaps black and white would be more forgiving but colour shows the full vulgarity. Another image shows a family tucking into chips on a car park bench, in front of an overflowing bin. The primary colours ring loud: red paintwork, blue denims, white trainers and polystyrene cartons. The youngest is out of her pram and, like the whirl of rubbish on the floor, is twisting herself, about to throw a strop.
By the late 1960s, conceptual artists such as Richard Long and Keith Arnatt were using photography in their work, and in parallel, Parr posited the ordinary world in the art gallery. He has amassed his own vast collection of prints, souvenirs and ephemera in tandem with his growing collection of archetypal images of Englishness - newspapers on the beach, cups of tea, front lawns, sliced white bread and margarine, cricket whites, postcards of Big Ben, knitted whatnots, baked beans, seagulls pecking at chips, prize cakes.
Sandra Phillips, Martin Parr (Phaidon, London 2007)
Val Williams, Martin Parr (Phaidon, London 2002)
Martin Parr and Ian Walker, The Last Resort: Photographs of New Brighton (Promenade Press, Stockport 1986)
A piece of cloth woven from flax, hemp or cotton fibres. The word has generally come to refer to any piece of firm, loosely woven fabric used to paint on. Its surface is typically prepared for painting by priming with a ground.
The term ‘Documentary’ was not coined until the 1920s, and then used by the British film-maker, John Grierson, to refer to moving pictures. It has a long and continuous history in British photography, reaching back to the invention of the medium. Many critics claimed that the documentary impulse, which can perhaps be best defined as the systematic recording of visual reality for the purpose of providing information and encouraging understanding of the world, is inherent in the medium itself. It was this view which came to be known as the realist paradigm - the belief that a photograph represents a ‘slice of reality’ easily understood by the viewer. This belief governed understanding of photography from the moment of its invention in the era of positivism in the 19th Century, until it was itself subject to interrogation in the 1980s.
Early British practitioners included John Thomson whose visual essay Street Life in London (1876) documented the life of the London poor, and Hill and Adamson who portrayed, in the mid 1840s, the customs and way of life of the fisher folk of Newhaven near Edinburgh. In the early 20th century, following the emergence of documentary film-making and Mass Observation (a study undertaken in the North of England by the anthropologist Tom Harrisson), this new aesthetic found its most persuasive outlet in the mass circulation weekly magazines, such as Picture Post and Life. In time, however, pressure from advertisers combined with the restrictions of group journalism and curtailed the independence of creative photographers, with only exceptional individuals such as Bill Brandt able to survive as both a photojournalist and an independent photographer. His images of Britain’s class-ridden society along with his more experimental nudes, portraits and landscapes had a profound influence on a younger generation and established Brant as a major creative force in the development of modernism in Britain.
Mass Observation was designed to emulate the radical achievements of the worker-photography movement which had arisen in Germany during the 1920s. It proved influential on the evolution of British documentary, especially on those photographers associated with the Side Gallery in Newcastle. The gallery fostered a regional, community-oriented form of documentary practice. Its philosophy was rooted firmly in the notion that an authentic document can only be generated by those familiar with the local community. Photographers associated with Side Gallery included Sirkka Konttinen, Isabella Jedrecyck, Graham Smith, Peter Fryer, Chris Killip and Julian Germain.
It was, however, across the Atlantic that the more enduring legacy concerning the ethics and status of documentary was to be found in the work of the photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration to document the plight of the American rural poor during the Depression. One of its outstanding photographers was Walker Evans whose use of signs and symbols (such as billboards and advertising hoardings) as images of desire created a text or narrative to accompany the careful sequencing of images. The direct inheritors of the photograph as social sign were the American photographers of the ‘social landscape’, namely Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus whose unsympathetic vision of the American landscape reflected the anxieties of urban life during the booming consumer decade - store fronts, billboards, graffiti and advertising. They chose to portray people, situations and artefacts in a casual and objective way that allowed the viewer to interpret the work freely; a strategy that became known as the ‘snapshot aesthetic’. One of those who experienced many of these developments first hand was the British photographer Tony Ray-Jones. His work was widely reproduced in the 1960s and his book A Day Off (1974) proved a particular inspiration for the generation of documentary photographers who developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The work of early documentary photographs can be found in the collections of the Royal Photographic Society www.rps.org)
The Mass Observation archive is held by the University of Sussex www.sussex.ac.uk/library/massobs/
The work of the Side Gallery can be seen at www.amber-online.com/gallery/
The archive for the Farm Security Administration is now in the Print and Reading Room Collections of the Library of Congress in Washington www.loc.gov/rr/print
Landscape is one of the principle genres of Western art. In early paintings the landscape was a backdrop for the composition, but in the late 17th Century the appreciation of nature for its own sake began with the French and Dutch painters (from whom the term derived). Their treatment of the landscape differed: the French tried to evoke the classical landscape of ancient Greece and Rome in a highly stylised and artificial manner; the Dutch tried to paint the surrounding fields, woods and plains in a more realistic way. As a genre, landscape grew increasing popular, and by the 19th Century had moved away from a classical rendition to a more realistic view of the natural world. Two of the greatest British landscape artists of that time were John Constable and JMW Turner, whose works can be seen in the Tate collection (www.tate.org.uk). There can be no doubt that the evolution of landscape painting played a decisive role in the development of Modernism, culminating in the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists . Since then its demise has often been predicted and with the rise of abstraction, landscape painting was thought to have degenerated into an amateur pursuit. However, landscape persisted in some form into high abstraction, and has been a recurrent a theme in most of the significant tendencies of the 20th Century. Now manifest in many media, landscape no longer addresses solely the depiction of topography, but encompasses issues of social, environmental and political concern.
Refers to either the material used to create a work of art, craft or design, i.e. oil, bronze, earthenware, silk; or the technique employed i.e. collage, etching, carving. In painting the medium refers to the binder for the pigment, e.g. oil, egg, acrylic dispersion. The plural form is media.
A permanent image taken by means of the chemical action of light on light-sensitive surfaces.
A set of pictures (as drawings, photographs or prints) either bound in book form or loose in a folder. These can be by the same artist or individual works by a selection of artists. The term also refers to the folder which holds the set.
Current & upcoming exhibitions
- India, Mumbai, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum
- India, Kolkata, The Harrington Street Arts Centre
- India, Delhi, IGNCA
- Brazil, Sao Paulo, SESI
DEL PASADO AL PRESENTE. MIGRACIONES EXPOSICION INTERNACIONAL CENTENARIO DEL MUSEO NACIONAL DE BELLAS ARTES
- Chile, Santiago, Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes
- UK, Newcastle, Laing Art Gallery
- Wales, Cardiff, National Museum Of Wales
- Sweden, Norrkoping, Arbets Museum
- Poland, Warsaw, Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Arts
- UK, Penzance, The Exchange
- UK, Leeds, Leeds City Art Gallery
- UK, Carlisle, Tullie House
- Wales, Aberystwyth, Aberystwyth Arts Centre
- Belgium, Brussels, Western European Union
- Georgia, Tbilisi, Carvasla Modern Art Gallery
- Kazakhstan, Almaty, State Museum Of Fine Arts
- Poland, Kowick Cultural And Educational Centre
- Bosnia, Mostar, Centrar Zakulturu
- Bosnia, Sarajevo, Sarajevo Foto Gallery
- Austria, Innsbruck, Fotoforum West
- Albania, Tirana, Centre For Contemporary Art
- Russia, Samara, State Museum Of Fine Art
- Russia, Saratov, Cernyshevsky Museum
- Russia, Pskov, Fine Art Gallery
- Russia, Zapovednik
- Russia, St Peter And Paul Fortress
- Russia, Fine Art Museum
- Czech Republic, Brno, Moravian Gallery
- Czech Republic, Opava, Moravian-Silesian Museum
- Czech Republic, Ostrava, J Miron Theatre
- Czech Republic, Prague, New Town Hall
- Argentina, Bahia Blanca, Biblioteca Bernandino Rivadavia
- Argentina, Mar Del Plata, Centro Cultural Villa Victoria
- Argentina, Buenos Aires, Fotogaleria Teatro General San Martin
- Chile, Santiago, Instituto Chileno Britanico De Cultura
- Japan, Tokyo, Hoseo Gallery
- Thailand, Bangkok, Bangkok Centre For Art
- India, Calcutta, Durbar Hall, Victoria Memorial
- India, New Delhi, The Queen's Gallery
- Bangladesh, Dhaka, Drik
- Hong Kong, Hong Kong Arts Centre
- Bulgaria, Sofia, Museum Of Modern Art
- Bulgaria, Plovdiv, International Photography Meeting
- Belgium, Liege, Les Chiroux
- Belgium, Brussels, Cultural Centre Strombeek
- Belgium, Antwerp, Photography Museum
- Germany, Halle, Staatliche Galerie Mortizburg
- Poland, Lodz, Fotografii Ltf
- Germany, Berlin, Galerie Augustus
- Finland, Turku, Peri Center Of Photography
- Greece, Athens, Hellenic American Union
- Greece, Thessaloniki, Museum Of Photography
- Poland, Katowice, Galeria Pusta
- Poland, Krakow, Muzeum Historii Fotografii
- Poland, Lodz, Galeria BWA
- Poland, Poznan, Galeria PF
- Romania, Bacau, Alfa Galleries
- Romania, Palace Of Culture
- Romania, Bucharest, National Theatre Galleries
- Slovakia, Bratislava, Broadcasting Gallery
- Czech Republic, Brno, House Of Artists
- Czech Republic, Hradec Kralove, Hradec Kralove Gallery Of Fine Arts
- Czechoslovakia, Prague, ULUV Exhibition Hall
- Italy, Padua, Assessatore
- Italy, Florence, Studio Marangoni
- Ireland, Dublin, Irish Gallery Of Photography
- Brazil, Blumenau, Galeria Da Prefeitura
- Brazil, Olinda, Museu De Arte Contemporanea
- Brazil, Recife, Shopping Centre
- Brazil, Rio De Janeiro, Paco Imperial
- Brazil, Sao Paulo, Museu De Arte De Sao Paulo
- Denmark, Odense, Museum Of Photographic Art
- Denmark, Faro Islands, Nordic Cultural Centre
- East Germany, East Germany
- Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovakia
- Italy, Italy
- Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia
- Belgium, Belgium
- Cyprus, Limassol, Odos Athinon Gallery
- Cyprus, Nicosia, Phototec
- Belgium, Brussels, Musees Royaux Des Beaux Arts
- Brazil, Brazil
- Yugoslavia, Zagreb, Galerije Grada