A British Tradition – Martin Parr territory

Martin Parr..oh…Martin Parr…how many times are you referenced throughout this coursework and elsewhere? I’m a bit Martin Parr blogged out, and whilst I really do appreciate the impact he has had on documentary I just want to move onto someone else lolol.

I’ve seen his work up close, I own a signed book, I’ve attended a talk and shaken the man’s hand. I love some of his work, don’t like some and could take or leave others. Bit like Paul Graham, who initially I really didn’t appreciate, Parr has grown on me over the past few years. More than anything what I find I am admiring most at the moment, is his way of networking, altering his direction slightly and getting into all the right places…it is amazing. Like others it is ironic that as a critic of the establishment he has rapidly become part of it. I think that with each new body of work, his focus and ever present satire, the ‘cruelness’ of Last Resort fades. He doesn’t just poke fun at the working classes, an easy target, he pokes fun at everyone! Parr’s work is often said to be mocking and patronising, and he readily admits to staging his images to have a certain feel to them. His subjectivity, reflexivity and authorship shine through, as he picks up on the minute details with impressive observation.

Take for example the image he discusses: Todmorden: the Mayor of Todmorden’s inaugural banquet, 1977. A black and white image that does not portray the mental image one would possibly have of such a sedate occasion. Instead we get the free-for-all over the buffet table packed with delightful elements such as the man cupping a pork pie and the lady trying to squeeze out as another pushes in.


The social interactions and detailed observations within this image translated into his later work. I’ve previously commented upon his later use of garish colours, and images ‘laden with social commentary and class connotations,’ the love/hate relationship that I and many others have with some of his work but I guess I better suck it up and continue with the exercise…

Random bit here… a very interesting article on cliché


Read the document ‘Martin Parr: Photographic Works 1971–2000’ by the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television.

Watch an audio slide show of Martin Parr talking about his progression from B&W to colour photography and The Last Resort.

In this video Martin Parr acknowledges and defends what he calls the “hypocrisy and prejudice” in his work. What do you think about this statement? Write a short reflective commentary in your learning log.

I’m going to start this commentary off with how Martin Parr: Photographic Works 1971–2000 ends.

Parr gives us symbols, icons, clichés and trivia. He is a cultural commentator but doubles as a pessimist. He is a satirist and an exaggerator. He is a consummate photographer with a love of tradition, and a wicked streak.

The Last Resort Parr portrayed Northern families having a day out by the sea in shabby resorts, captured in vibrant Technicolor, and in a particularly unforgiving light. May be this was in direct rebellion against his upbringing which he described as ‘drab, suburban and dreary.’

It followed on from collaborative work with Daniel Meadows. Butlin’s by the Sea,  and Parr’s interest in English customs and behaviours at its ‘loud exuberant best’ never waned. He continues to explore the ordinariness of life as well as the absurd, taking in values, attitudes and the trivial. Class and consumerism were topics that featured overwhelmingly in early projects, while he also cast his critical gaze at the tourist industry, their promotion of the Tourist Gaze and the lack of authenticity everywhere. In her book, Martin Parr, Val Williams wonders if these photographs are a commentary on ‘how frivolous, insensitive and sensation-seeking society has become’. (2002, p208-209)

On listening to Parr it would seem that the intent behind Last Resort was more as a response to the political exertion that Britain was such a great country, yet these shabby seaside towns were stagnating, and only busy on high days and holidays; the working class people within the images were from struggling towns where the major industries were closing down and in reality, this ‘great place’ was falling apart at the seams. Rather than poking fun at people, he was looking for the poignancy and vulnerability that captured the reality and desperation of real life. The rubbish strewn streets/beaches were symbols of the economic downturn. Armed with that information, and being aware of the semiotics he uses, the narratives don’t seem to be as critical of the people, but more of the situation they found themselves in.

With regards to commenting on his ‘hypocrisy and prejudice’ it is important to put it into context. The full quote is:

But I’m a very big hypocrite, insofar that I’m making things and objects which become part of the thing that, if you read my photographs carefully, I’m preaching against. I love the fact that my work is surrounded by hypocrisy and prejudice, and all these things that people don’t expect photographers to be pursuing.

Very self aware and honest, Parr openly acknowledges he doesn’t hide from his subjects nor does he hide who he is. He knows what he wants to capture and goes for it. In that respect I don’t find his work hypocritical. Everyone does their job to make a living, what photographer would say ‘no don’t pay me, no don’t exhibit me, give all my money to charity, I spit in the face of commercialism and capitalism, I don’t want a grant/funding, produce something for the BBC? Get lost!’ So although I see his point, aren’t we all hypocrites in that respect? I don’t see many dyed in the wool, red through n through socialists treating the ‘real’ working classes to a slap up meal every week or paying their bills.

Is his work prejudiced? Depends on what definition you are going for: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience, in that respect nopes; harm or injury that results or may result from some action or judgement, can’t see that anyone was harmed, so nopes; give rise to prejudice in (someone); make biased, this one mayyyyyyy be just a tad. Images will always be biased and as Parr has said: ‘People bring their own prejudices,’ so it works both ways.

Another person who is generous with his time and with sharing his views; even if you dislike his work you can’t dislike the man, his work ethic or easily dismiss the huge impact he has had on the documentary genre and the next generation of photographers.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJinAgBYaLs [Accessed 06/04/2017]

Martin Parr : Photographic Works 1971-2000 by the National Museum of Photography , Film and Television . Core resources :Parr pdf. [Accessed 06/04/2017]


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