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Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Martin Parrsley

Alexei Sayle got into trouble in Liverpool for questioning Scouse commitment to culture - he dismissed his critics by saying "You've got to remember that a lot of people who write in to newspapers or call phone-ins are actually nutters" - and Martin Parr got into trouble for showing that New Brighton - just across the Mersey from Liverpool - was anything less than a garden of earthly delights.

First of all, The Last Resort was in colour but more importantly, it portrayed the people of Liverpool without resorting to the Noble Northern Savagery that was expected of photographers - it's grim up north, but it's grim in black and white, goddamit!

The Last Resort also helped make Parr the quintessential eighties photographer - not a Thatcherite, but certainly a man of the times in terms of his opportunism and relish for extending photography beyond its very narrow limits.

For which all of us in the UK should be grateful - Martin is a spark of life, a mischief maker in the machine.

Recently Parr gave a talk at the University of Wales, Newport (possibly the only university campus
in the world that was built on a Roman Cemetery. If you've seen the Amityville Horror or if you study at Newport, you'll know why that's a bad idea!), and somebody asked Parr if his current success was due to his work or "The Martin Parr Brand".

He didn't answer the question then, but he has indirectly on other occasions - he says his best work (The Last Resort) is probably in the past, and to be sure, he's milking the Parr personality and Parr style for all its worth. But at the same time, the Photobook Histories, the curating and the public face of Brand Parr do add up to more than a hill of beans - British photography life would be tremendously dull without him. And given his perverse nature, he'll probably come up with some fabulous new take on the world and surprise us all.

So God Bless Martin Parr - but not too much. He can bless himself if he's not blessed enough.


Stan B. said...

Funny to hear ol' Marty "admit" to The Last Resort era work being his best, not that his more recent work has been lame by any means. Just that that the old stuff had so much more going on, pictures within pictures, rather than the more recent in your face "product" close ups. Some might even say the old stuff more closely resembled (egads!)... street photography.

Wonder if he just tired of that style, or just tired of making more complex, and demanding photographs.

colin pantall said...

I think you're right, Parr was/is a street photographer in the way he works.

The Last Resort was made when Parr had just become a new father, and that's reflected in the book - which , as well as all the crappy seaside landscapes, is about having children and dealing with babies.

So he did that, then he went into the middle-classes, consumption and the ring-flashed minutae of English and globalized life - then the ephemera of his photographic archives, and then co-editing books and curating.

I don't think he got bored with the Last Resort style, he just moved on from it into areas that were more middle class and got less of an extreme reaction and were less attached to the places or people he photographed - he lived in New Brighton at the time he photographed The Last Resort.

I just had a rerun through the Val Williams Parr retrospective and this review from Arts Review in 1986 was quoted:

"Parr has habitually discovered visitors at their worst, greedily eating and drinking junk food and discarding containers and wrappers with an abandon likely to send a liberal conscience into paroxysms of sanctimony... Our historic working class, normally dealt with generously by documentary photographers, become a sitting duck for a more sophisticated audience. They appear fat, styleless, tediously conformist and unable to assert any individual identity..."

Which reads like a bit of projection from the reviewer.

Anonymous said...

When 'Last Resort' was reviewed in Creative Camera back in 86, it mentioned something along the lines of:

Parr has broken the number one rule of documentary photography, do not shit on the working classes!

colin pantall said...

That's a great paraphrase, anonymous.

There is the view that a lot of the criticism of The Last Resort was either a projection of (southern) romantic notions of the grim up "'ey up lad, grim up north, but at least we got t'snicket t'wander up, ee, let's go down beach and pick sum col ou' t'sea" version of the north, or else it could be (northern?)resentment of the fact that Parr is middle class with socks on and comes from Surrey - which is beyond London in southern-ness, a godless and frightening place where beer costs more than 50p a pint!

Anyway, Parr shows the shit places the working classes go to perhaps, but he doesn't shit on the working classes at all.

What do you think, anonymous?