In researching Martin Parr, and his ‘The Last Resort’ I came across Eric Kim’s post: ’10 Things Martin Parr Can Teach You About Street Photography’, which included four youtube films about Martin Parr.
Here is a summary of these films and my reflection.
Parr says that ‘fundamentally his main subject in the increasing wealth of the Western world’. He acknowledges his privilege and that he is a wealthy man: ‘I live in a beautiful house’, and says he ‘would not sacrifice (his) wealth’. However, he ‘teases out (his) guilt by taking photographs of that subject’.
The film shows Parr taking photographs on Ladies’ Day at Ascot.
I was surprised at how ‘aggressive’ he can be, in terms of getting up close and uninvited to take images of people without consent. He uses his very friendly personality to get the ‘cooperation’ of his subjects. He reminded me of Bruce Gilden, whose ‘in-your-face’ photography initially shocked me. Parr is much more pleasant about it but still he gets very close, and takes photographs, often not very flattering, without consent.
In contrast, Les Monaghan prefers ‘fairness: This is from my post on Les Monaghan’s presentation at the Photography Matters Symposium March 2016:
‘I admired that Les was concerned about what was fair when photographing people. He actually says that he ‘lost sleep’ (Monaghan 2016) over the issue of fairness, and when one respondent said that his desire was ‘to send all the immigrants back’, Les refused to show his comment in the public space of the shopping centre that was his gallery, for fear of exposing him as a racist. Les sincerely cares about his subjects, he doesn’t want to undermine them. I admire him for knowing and remembering their names and something of their life stories. I admire him for his ethnographical approach, building up relationships with the people in the area and showing real empathy.
My view on Parr’s style of photography has changed a little. I have developed more confidence in taking candid photographs of people, even attempting ‘from the hip’. In some ways the anxiety of approaching a subject for consent and the subsequent rejection or pressure to take a good picture, is off-putting. I am more comfortable now in taking candid photographs and am happy to photograph people unaware. However, I would not like an unflattering picture of myself and I will avoid capturing images that others might find embarrassing. My learning is that it is ok to take photographs of people. I am not sure how other photographers approach the issue of taking images of children but this is something I am actively avoiding at present. I realise that Parr’s images were taken in the 80s and that things have changed, but his photographs contain numerous images of children and babes, and some nudity.
After a day of shooting, Parr’s selection process is shown in the video. Looking at his contact sheets, he says: ‘you have an idea that you’ve got something interesting’. He marks up an initial selection of 20 or 30 images from which to make a final selection. He says ‘most of these are failures… if I can get 1 great success I would be more than happy’.
The image below, of a woman at Ascot, with a stain on front of her dress, was the ‘image (Parr) liked most of all’ from the photographs he took on his Ascot shoot.
Image from video 4
This is not a flattering picture of the woman in the pink dress. However, we do not see her face, so although her friends and family may recognise her, and she would probably be embarrassed if she saw it, there is no real damage done since she is unrecognisable to the rest of the world. I can see how Parr uses this image to ‘tease out his guilt’ about the privilege of the wealthy and ‘deflect criticism of his working class images’ (video 3)
In this video, Parr shows us an image by Garry Winogrand, of women sitting on a bench from Winogrand’s: Women are Beautiful collection.
image from video 2
Winogrand says he had ‘no story-telling responsibility’, and that images are ‘mute’, with ‘no narrative ability’. He says the photograph is just a picture of that moment, and we don’t know what happened before or after. I believe that this image has a thousand possible stories or interpretations by the viewer, but I agree, the image itself is silent – as if it is keeping the secret of what happened just before and just after the image was captured.
Charlotte Cotton writes of story-telling in photography and says ‘…meaning is reliant on our investing the image with our own trains of narrative and psychological thought’. (Cotton 2004 p49)
Speaking of his ‘The Last Resort’ Parr says that despite the ‘furore’ caused by his book and accusations of exploiting the working classes, he feels ‘it is just as important to photograph this as it is to document AIDS in Africa, or famine’. He says that is considered acceptable but ‘photography in our own back yard is not acceptable’. He sees this as ‘bizzare’.
I have mixed feelings about this. I agree that it is important to document concerns, as a way of enabling photography to create change. Les Monaghan (Monaghan 2016) is passionate about photography effecting change by giving ordinary people a voice. His Desire project highlighted the dreams and concerns of ordinary people. I am not sure Martin Parr does this. He may be highlighting political issues, but in a different, less collaborative way.
In this film, Parr explains some of his motivation and philosophy behind his images. He says that, as a photographer in the 70s, his images were a celebration of working class people’s lives. His views about the country changed over the next two decades and he ‘liked England and hate(d) England simultaneously’. He had become more cynical and in trying to make photography relevant, he ‘felt almost a responsibility to be critical … have a critique as well as a celebration’.
He acknowledges that through his images are subjective – he chooses what to photograph and how to do it. He says they are ‘not meant to be true documentation’. His commission to photograph people on the ferry boats, ‘buying drink and getting pissed’ are unflattering depictions of the English working class. This image below shows people ‘buying drink as if it is going out of fashion’:
Image from video 3
However, Parr says he is making fiction out of reality and therefore ‘you have to exaggerate your case’.
Parr feels that he uses photography to describe his mixed relationship to England and the changes that he has seen, his love and hatred of the country and his cynicism of it. He says ‘what photography can do, much better than I can ever achieve with words is to talk about this ambiguity’.
This film shows the making of Martin Parr’s TV Film ‘Think of England’.
I was interested in Film Producer Colin Luke’s instruction to Parr: ‘in TV, the sound is more important than the picture. Audiences are more forgiving of a bad picture but they want to be able to hear the facts’.
For this documentary, Parr filmed all over the country to try to capture the essence of Englishness. He filmed football fans, people in pubs and bars, on the streets and in all weathers.
His filming in huge winds, when people couldn’t stand up, shows how determined he is to get the image. Luke says that he (Parr) will film what most wouldn’t … he is never shy of anybody…he is interested in people and not threatening…people are equally interesting to him.: ‘The guy lying in the street and the guy coming out of the Rolls Royce are equally interesting to him’.
Please see my other posts on Martin Parr:
Cotton, C, (2004). The Photograph as Contemporary Art. London:Thames and Hudson.
Kim, E, (date unknown) blog, including videos. At: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2012/03/26/10-things-martin-parr-can-teach-you-about-street-photography/
Monaghan, L. (2016) Fairness and effecting change (Lecture at Doncaster Cast 21 May 2016)
Video 1 on youtube . At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDlnjtVGLOo
Video 2 on youtube. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUq0jSmX6c0
Video 3 on youtube. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyuMp7U7Ri8
Video 4 on youtube. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0MVTTm58pM