Martin Parr: talk at the Holbourne Museum, Bath

the cover of a book about Martin Parr was on the screen as we waited for him to talk

the cover of a book about Martin Parr was on the projection screen as we waited for him to talk


There seems to be no title to the talk. On entry, we are confronted with a screen that shows the cover of a book recently updated about Martin Parr by Val Williams and published by Phaidon. On the cover, is text referring to the controversial nature of Parr’s work.

The director of the Holbourne Museum introduces Martin Parr and makes the connection between him and the Georgian cartoonist and satirist Thomas Rowlandson exhibition currently running in the Museum; Parr is likewise creating “fiction out of reality.”
Parr a Regency photographer!? An idea that makes for an introductory joke to his talk.
Started photography at an early age thanks to encouragement from his grand father. Studied at polytechnic in Manchester at a time when photography was not considered art but was soon to be seen as such. Home Sweet Home was his first exhibitied body of work about the crassness and kitsch found in people’s homes.
Obsessed photographer, son of an obsessive birdwatcher. Moved to Bradford where he became part of a group of photographers and photographed around the area. Non Conformist body of work from this time and place. Black and White medium of the day; colour regarded as frivolous.
Small chapel of about 8 or 9 people. Photographed this small community. Small details from the fabric of life. Book not published until about 40 years later.
Bad Weather (originally published 1982), a body of work that deals with a natural obsession. Used an underwater camera and flash gun to photograph this unconventional subject. Started to photograph boring places while trying to make interesting photographs.
Different photographs of some place! Which photographs tell the truth?
Has done over 80 photo books and put together 3 volumes of a history about the Photobook. Curating show for Barbican in 2016; curated ARLES in 2004.
Editing Photobooks such as Peter Mitchell‘s book.
A collector of memorabilia such as that of Margaret Thatcher. Trays with photographs on them. Book about watches with photographs of Saddam Hussein on them as well as Bin Laden memorabilia.
Believer in satire and comedy; takes it seriously. Likes Hancock.
Enjoys the simplicity of the postcard. Particularly those of the motorway which is no longer so photographed.
The Last Resort, a run down tourist resort near Liverpool called New Brighton, photographed over three summers. Impossible to do now as attitude towards photographing children has changed so much. Book came out in 1986 and since republished.
Commissioned to photograph Salford inside shops. Apparently boring subjects of the time are now interesting because so much has changed. Tupperware party!
Decided to do a project about the Middle classes so moved to Bath which resulted in The Cost of Living. Photographed events that had a middle class feel. Dinner parties, childbirth classes, aerobics … Etc
Decided to join an agency and chose Magnum. Opened up the possibility of magazine work. Even did fashion work although he had no real appreciation for it.
Did photos for The Guardian. British cities. Still does some editorial work.
Series of photos used for Agatha Christie novels appeared in France.
The global economy. Someone looking at you when photographing can ruin but possibly make a photograph.
Machu Piccu and other tourist sites now full of people. Photographing tourists at tourist sites rather than the attraction. Small World, a book resulting from this.
Bought a macro lens to allow him to get closer to his subject. Photographed British food initially but went on to photograph cliches … Snails in France etc Resulted in book called Common Sense which was exhibited around the world.
Boring Postcards proved to be a best selling book; contains no photographs by Parr. Made pilgrimage to a town called Boring in Oregon which resulted in a book called Boring Photographs.
Think of England about British life; Ascott, Weymouth, Eastbourne Etc
Series of photographs about beaches in South America. Made a deliberately cheap looking book with a poor designer that was badly printed! Also did a series called Life’s a Beach, one version of which was made to look like an old fashioned album.
Luxury around 2010 to show the world of the rich. Went to art fairs, fashions shows etc where the rich were. Dubai featured as well as As it, South African horse races, Melbourne Cup in Oz, Gucci store in Moscow, San Moritz, Beijing Art Show.
Photography of The Black Country; been revived by ethnic groups that have moved in there. Old businesses surviving as well as modern stores etc
10,000 photos to 500 edits which is then whittled down to about 25. Created an archive box.
 Martin Parr is one of the great photographers of our age and yet many people question his approach to photographing people which may seem insensitive at times although this is going to depend largely on the situation; Parr’s response on reflection though, is apparently sensitive to what he sees. He may be a cynic though his sense of humour is evident. Seeing him as a caricaturist is one way to understand his modus operandi. Perhaps the real difference between his “cartoons” of people although similar to those of Hogarth and Rowlandson, are of real people not products of the imagination. What might be the feelings of those people and how much does the situation differ from those who are being caricatured by artists like Hogarth or contemporary cartoonists like Peter Brookes (a cartoon today saw PM Cameroon appearing to actually lick the backside of Obama). “Je suis Charlie!” is the worldwide mantra since last week of those who want to defend freedom of expression yet should others be insulted? Out for an afternoon walk, I photograph late afternoon light falling on Winter trees and although the beauty is poignant, I can not help but feel Parr’s genius in capturing something quite unique that un;like the sunlit trees, will never be repeated.
Here is a comment, “‘Martin Parr is a chronicler of our age – His photographs are original and entertaining, accessible and understandable. But at the same time they show us in a penetrating way how we live, how we present ourselves to others, and what we value.’ – Thomas Weski

One thought on “Martin Parr: talk at the Holbourne Museum, Bath

  1. Pingback: Review of the talk in Bath by Martin Parr, documentary photographer. | annasocablog

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