Martin Parr

In writing up my learning log for Assignment 5, I referenced the work of Martin Parr.  My tutor suggested I should expand on this reference, hence this entry which has been prepared following a day researching Parr at The British Library.  I’ve placed the following images on my Pinterest board on

Pinterest: Martin Parr

  • Badminton Horse Trials, 1988, © Martin Parr
  • Lakeside Tea Room, Southwold © Martin Parr
  • Honister Pass, 1994, © Martin Parr
  • Beijing World Park, 1997, © Martin Parr
  • Galway Races, 1997, © Martin Parr
Relating Parr to my Assignment 5:
Explaining the influence of Parr on my work is not a particularly easy thing to do but I will make an attempt.  In this assignment, I, like Parr, sought to capture the ‘tourist burdened with guide books, equipment and expectations’, [Williams, 2012], although much of the time I was that tourist.  I made images, A5-A for example, in moderately challenging circumstances where relatively few people take photographs – you can see this is in the reaction of the main passenger on the left hand side of the image.  Similarly, I have tried to capture a sense of the incongruous, for example the monk in A5-C and the driver’s reflected face in A5-G.  In some images, I have also tended towards a slightly more saturated colour than my usual taste, notably in A5-K.  There is something more of Parr in my images, although it is difficult to define.  I would not say that I am working in a conceptual way, nor is my work art in the sense that Parr’s is.  Perhaps I am like Parr in that I am one of those:
“who find plesaure through loking at the particular, but always with a mind on the larger social view”, [Phillips, 2007]

Parr, [1952-], studied at Manchester Polytechnic in 1970 and amongst his contemporaries were Brian Griffin and Daniel Meadows, (see my earlier post here).  Some consider that at this time, ‘Britain was asleep photographically’ ,[Phillips, 2007], but Parr, particularly through Creative Camera magazine, became aware of what was happing in the US and the work of Winogrand, (see this post),  and Friedlander in particular.  John Szarkowski’s Looking at Photographs (1973), was an important influence on Parr as it included both snapshots and ordinary pictures as well as those by artist – photographers.
“Parr and his fellow students devoured this book [The Americans, Robert Frank, 1959], a copy of which he bough in Manchester although it was generally unknown to his lecturers there. [Phillips, 2007]
In the early 1980s, Parr switched to colour photography and in 1982 published ‘The Last Resort’, arguably a defining moment in British Photography that generated extreme criticism.  However, how views have changed over time:
“At the time, Martin Parr’s series of photographs from New Brighton, a dilapidated seaside spot on the Wirral, were seen as condescending.  But now they look humourously engaged and fond, bringing Bristich working-class nook and crannies into view, and reminding us how unusual that was, (and is), in art photography.” [Badger, 2010].
Parr, a founder of the New European Color Photography School, works in a conceptual way showing in art galleries as well as photography galleries. Parr credits Tony Ray-Jones,  an important bridge between UK and US photography, as his most important influence.  In his more recent work, notably Common Sense (1990, [xref], he openly acknowledges the influence of Nobuyshi Araki and The Banquet .
Parr is often described as  aggressive  photographer, both by the viewer and the subject. For example, the Bristol Evening Standard reported that one of the women in Parr’s The Cost of Living project, from which my first example image is drawn, claimed that she had been ‘photo-raped’. I found Badger’s view on the perceptions of Parr helpful:
“because his various projects have tended to deal specifically with an uncompromisingly direct, even confrontational depicition of social groups [he] is branded as aggressive. which is then conflated in many people’s minds with cynicism.” [Badger, 2010]
Val Williams provides a useful statement that I think summarises some key aspects of Parr’s work:
“He has also honed in on types within society….the middle-aged woman with lipstick very bright or a little smudges, leaning forward for a kiss, is a familiar character in Parr’s documentary cast list, as is the tourist burdened with guide books, equipment and expectations.  People, reading and eating in cars have particularly engaged Parr, as have shoppers, making small decisions, looking, wondering, searching.” , [Williams, 2002].
Further references:

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