martin parr special

A special thank you to Lisa Collins of Barbican Media Relations and Ben Osbourne of MAGNUM. ©

A Look At This Extraordinary Magnum Photographer's Career And Work

Martin Parr In his College Degree Project Sitting Room "Home Sweet Home (1974)",
part of the ongoing Barbican Gallery retrospective.

This special article is to celebrate the "Photographic Works" exhibition at the Barbican Gallery which finishes on the 14th April 2002. This is the first major exhibition of all Martin's work and certainly shows the level of achievement his work has reached. His standing as a social documentary photographer is now accepted without question though previously his style was thought intrusive. But seeing the collections as a whole has introduced an overall clear image of his views on a variety of subjects.

Martin was born in 1952 and went to college at the then Manchester Polytechnic College in 1972 to study for his degree. Whilst at college Martin became influenced by the American photo-documentarists William Eggleston, Joel Meyerowitz and the postcards of John Hinde. But his preoccupation with domestic and social matters was first shown in the board game he developed called "Love Cubes"! This featured portraits of couples shot individually and the idea was to rejoin the couples. The Barbican features a computerised version which was quite interesting and surprisingly difficult!

For his degree Martin designed and furnished a room set, decorated with his own framed photos and intended as a comment on the ideas of personal taste. Titled "Home Sweet Home" it earned him his degree.

But in 1972 and in cooperation with Daniel Meadows ("Living Like this" and others) Martin started his journey into documentary photography with his first recording of an actual street. June Street, Salford captured modest homes in a terraced street in the north of England. This was intended to be seen as a real life Coronation Street (a long running English TV soap, set in Manchester) and was very much evidence of an increasingly conceptual edge to his work. After this, he recorded various communities and traditions, photographing ways of life which were soon to disappear. From Calderdale to a Halifax rugby stand to a Queens jubilee tea in the rain and the rapidly diminishing congregation of a Hebden Bridge Chapel.

From The Last Resort (image copyright Magnum)

Between 1983 and 1986 Martin recorded a series on the decaying seaside resort of New Brighton titled The Last Resort. Seen by many as a negative comment on working class holidays, this series was really a study of what people have to put up with in run down areas and was the beginning of his studies of the English as a nation. The Cost Of Living was the next step in this process and focused on the English middle classes in the South West of the country. Remorseless and unforgiving, his images of the anxiously upwardly mobile is a classic portrait of a small section of the British people at home.

From The Cost Of living (copyright Magnum)

Further scenes of how bad the English can be, were recorded in the little known series One Day Trip. Where Martin followed a bus load of shoppers on a day trip to French hypermarkets across the channel. Biting and with a sense of revulsion these images are certainly not something the British can be proud of as scenes of incredible greed, waste and litter are graphically shown!

By the 1990's Martin was travelling the world and enhancing his reputation as an internationally known documentary photographer. His critique of the international tourist industry Small World showed bewildered tourists, a whirl of cameras, petty commerce and exploitation of grand monuments. Martin's views had changed irredeemably from the journey from the quiet worshippers of Hebden bridge chapel to the t-shirted tourists clustered around the Sphinx in Gaza. Common Sense exposed global consumption and waste in an obsessive pursuit of the vulgar, the broken and the absurd. The first exhibition prints of this collection were produced on colour xerox copiers (see image below) and is now part of the Tate Britain collection.

In all Martin has used his imagery to highlight the darker aspects of life in the global economy of today, with its mass movements of tourists, its consumerism and in places its extreme greed! An artist with a sense of purpose! He shows us what we need to be afraid of!

Please feel free to print this article for your own personal enjoyment but under no circumstances reproduce without written permission from UKlandscape. Martin Parr images from The Cost Of Living and The Last Resort are copyright protected and must not be reproduced. All text and all other images are the copyright of UKlandscape and are not to be reproduced without written permission from the authors.

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May 2014
Roger Voller


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