Own Research – The Ceremony of Life: Early Works by Martin Parr The Photographers Gallery April 2017

As mentioned before I am a bit Martin Parr-ed out, but when the opportunity comes available to view his work that’s what you do!

Whilst visiting the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2017 and Roger Mayne exhibition I popped downstairs to the Print Sales Gallery which had on show The Ceremony of Life, an exhibition of rarely seen black and white prints by Martin Parr and presented in collaboration with Rocket Gallery, London.

These early works – taken in the 1970s and early 1980s – reveal a gentler, less critical lens, unearthing a young photographer with superlative observational skills, passionate about capturing the unsung rituals of everyday life.

The exhibition features images from Parr’s first major series’ and photo books, including, Bad Weather (1975-1982), Fair Day (1980-1983) and Non-Conformist (published in 2013). the vernacular of people and landscapes across Yorkshire, Sussex, Dublin and the west coast of Ireland.

Parr once said that ‘black-and-white is certainly more nostalgic, by nature,’ and that his early ‘black-and-white work is more of a celebration and the colour work [is] more of a critique of society.’

The images on display are definitely a gentler reflection of British values exploring quieter moments:  shots of businessmen waiting at train stations in the fog, men fixing door-frames, at the Steep Lane Baptist Chapel buffet lunch, Sowerby, Calderdale, West Yorkshire, a refined middle-aged woman carefully sugars under the watchful eye of Jesus at the last supper. Here we can see the beginnings of Parr’s commentary on what it means to be British. Offbeat and eccentric for their time, these works display the quirkiness that would later hallmark his distinctive style.


What did I take away from this exhibition?

  • that you can change style and still be successful!



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.’

Continue reading “A British Tradition – Martin Parr territory”

Suggested Research – Martin Parr

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.