Martin Parr, where do you begin with a Magnum photographer like Martin Parr? He has had around 40 solo photobooks published, and has featured in around 80 exhibitions worldwide – including the international touring exhibition ParrWorld, and a retrospective at the Barbican Arts Centre, London, in 2002. He has also curated work the exhibition Strange and Familiar at the Barbican in 2016.
It isn’t simple enough to call him a documentary photographer he is more ‘a chronicler of our age.’ So much so that he has just been commissioned by the BBC to make their new idents.
Renowned for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, I hope that the series of images Parr captures across the year will document everyday Britain in all its glory and serve as a fascinating and lasting record of 2017.
He is said to transcend ‘the traditional separation of the different types of photography’ using a strategy which presents and publishes the same photos in the ‘context of art photography, in exhibitions and in art books, as well as in the related fields of advertising and journalism.’
At first glance, his photographs seem exaggerated or even grotesque in fact he could be a modern day, colour Diane Arbus; strange motifs, garish colours and unusual perspectives. Revealing in a ‘penetrating way how we live, how we present ourselves to others, and what we value.’
But that isn’t what all of his work is about. Much of it is but some isn’t. In particular I love his recent work on The Rhubarb Triangle which focuses on one small industry and tells its story from beginning to end. I also liked his earlier work The Non Conformists which focused on one small community. What I am not so keen on is the garish images that to me are not a gentle mocking of the English at play but a more critical and condescending social commentary, for example ‘The Last Resort’. 1983-85, but that’s just my take on some of his stuff. The rest I find quite stunning. And even the images that make me inwardly cringe I have to admire because they are or were summing up our society. His images are not only interesting as in visually appealing but they are also meaningful, as in they inform us about society and ourselves.
His observation on the British way of life is uncanny and his work ethic second to none. A friend of mine is in awe of his contacts and how he manages to get into places and situations to obtain his images.
I was lucky enough to attend a talk and on going to the joint exhibition with Tony Ray Jones Only in England, I remember the advice he gave to a fellow student about taking more interesting images he said ‘get out of London!’ As time has moved on I think his style has mellowed slightly and I prefer a lot more of his work now than I did previously.
He is another photographer who thinks you should take a lot of images but be ruthless when you edit. Due to his diversity he is again a photographer that you can keep returning to for inspiration with black and white, embedding yourself in a community as with assignment one, single shots that stand alone yet sum up an emotion or atmosphere, looking towards assignment two, and those which work as a narrative looking further on into the coursework.