Martin Parr was born in Surrey in 1952. His father was a photographer and Martin grew up with a camera in his hand. His photographs show everyday life, ordinary things, yet they convey a deep critique of class and society. He is anti-Conservative and his photographs have been described as poking fun at the middle classes, To me, they highlight the important things in life that are often hidden behind the poverty among the working class.
I went to see Parr’s exhibitions: ‘The Rhubarb Triangle’, and ‘The Last Resort’ at The Hepworth in Wakefield. The Rhubarb Triangle is a collection of photographs showing the hard labour involved in the local rhubarb industry and the consumption of rhubarb products. The Last Resort documents the leisure time of ordinary people at the seaside.
(Note – photography was allowed in the majority of the galleries at The Hepworth. All images reproduced here are my photographs of Martin Parr’s work.)
These images show the life of middle class people at various functions. It is unclear just how candid Parr’s photographs are but these, for me, show boredom, awkwardness and misery: emotions that challenge the traditional view of happiness created by wealth. The poor boy at the gymkhana looks terrified by the stress of it all.
This image is of a working class couple making the most of a view from the prom on their seaside holiday. Shot through a dirty window with broken glass, it emphasises the misery associated with poverty. However, at the same time, it shows a strength of character, and a determination among the working class to prioritise family and ‘having fun’ despite their lack of wealth.
These photographs are of the Wakefield rhubarb industry, showing the hard work involved in production, and the final product. The juxtaposition of work and leisure is a common theme in Parr’s work.
The production end of the rhubarb industry
The consumer end
As part of Parr’s exhibition at the Hepworth, he presented a series of photographs of himself. His aim was to show, not just an ageing Martin Parr, but a history of photography from film to digital, a representation of how people are seen and photographed across the world, and which events are perceived as worthy of being photographed:
Perhaps my favourite exhibit was this, a collage of photographs of everyday life. Huge in scale, this piece of art dominated the gallery. Bright colours are often used by Parr, and this clearly is no exception.
Please see my other posts on Martin Parr:
Parr, M (2016) ‘The Rhubarb Triangle’, and ‘The Last Resort’ ‘Exhibition]. Wakefield: The Hepworth.