Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Thoughts on Parr

Also in my hard copy Learning Journal for 5th June 2012 to allow use of images.

During my visits to London to take pictures for the Elements of Design exercises and assessment, I have taken a few, very few, photographs of people going about their daily lives.  These have mostly been tourists and street performers, which I guess is cheating a bit in terms street photography, but at least I have started on the road to aiming a lens at someone I don’t know, which is going to have to be tackled at some stage.  As I have said before, this is not an area I have felt particularly comfortable with and it’s just not something I have ever done before because of this.

Following on from this, I have been looking around at the great exponents of street photography and those who make images of people going about their lives.  This is a popular genre of photography and many of the exponents are well known, but I have developed a particular liking for the works of Martin Parr who has made a photographic exploration of the many aspects of provincial modern life in England.  Parr was elected as a member of Magnum Photos in 1994, having first leapt to prominence in the 80’s for his black and white documentation of life in northern England, Bad Weather (1982) and A Fair Day (1984) and the resulting work, Last Resort: Photographs of New Brighton, was published in 1986.  Parr switched to colour in 1994 has delivered over 50 books and 80 exhibitions since then.  His own website describes him a “chronicler of our age” which sums it up perfectly.

Parr has a really intimate approach to photography and there are some highly satirical and humorous elements to his work.  His 1992 book Signs of the Times: A Portrait of the Nation's Tastes was photographed in people's homes and documented the mundane aspects of life. The images were coupled with quotes from the people he photographed which I found made me feel quite uncomfortable at times.  Indeed, Parr has been said “to leave viewers with ambiguous emotional reactions, unsure whether to laugh or cry”.[1]

I have blogged before on the Magnum62 exhibition that I attended at the Chris Beetles Fine Photographs Gallery (see links in side bar), and one of Parr’s images was included there.  The selected image was “Untitled (Girl serving ice cream)” from the “Last Resort, 1983-1985” book which documents the great British public going about their holiday business and in which Parr shows an unflattering and sometime mocking side.  It reputably caused significant controversy at the time of publication as it’s showed a side of life that made people feel uncomfortable with themselves and their portrayal – so it was highly successful in terms of photography then !!  I could just not imagine even attempting to take similar pictures!

October 2012 and just following up on this.  I found an excellent set of Parr's Black Country Stories on the outstanding The Space website.  There are a series of video clips with locals talking about their lives against a backdrop of Parr's images from such wide walks of Black Country life as football, food, foundry work, shops and a whole host of aspects of life he was commissioned to photograph.  The images are really brought to live by hearing from the people that he photographs, especially those working in the rapidly declining manufacturing industries, and the the images powerfully reflect the ancient equipment and almost sense of hopelessness felt by the operators.

1          Williams, Val. Martin Parr, Phaidon, 2004

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