MARTIN Parr, the British documentary photographer, photojournalist and avid observer of social class has captured the foibles and absurdities of the general public for three decades. His droll and uncompromising images of Britain in the ‘90s exposed a brash nation of resolute flag-wavers, voracious fast-food addicts and overcooked walruses broiling on Benidorm’s beaches.
However, a new exhibition which opens at the Photographer’s Gallery in London next week reveals Parr’s earlier work to be more observational and far less derogatory. The show, entitled The Ceremony of Life: Early Works by Martin Parr displays rare black and white prints from the photographer’s first major series which document the people and places he encountered in England and Ireland during the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Martin Parr, Steep Lane Baptist Chapel buffet lunch, Sowerby, Calderdale, West Yorkshire, England, UK, 1977.
From the series “The Non-Conformists”, Courtesy of Martin Parr/Magnum Photos/Rocket Gallery
After graduating from Manchester Polytechnic in the 1970s, Parr moved to Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire where he set up a workshop with two fellow students. Fascinated by the traditional way of life around him, he immersed himself in the local scene and with camera in hand, assumed a familiar presence at church services, street parties and village fetes. The writer, Val Williams described Parr’s as “a cunning photographer, sidling his way into situations where he shouldn’t always be, looking as ordinary as the people he photographs.”
Offbeat and eccentric for their time, these works display the quirkiness that would later hallmark his distinctive style.
Parr’s early scenes seem nostalgic and poignant like this windswept beach at Morecombe, recorded at a time when Britain’s pleasure parks were in full swing and bouncy castles were a novelty. Ballrooms like this one at Drumshambo in Ireland became regular venues for showbands but later, their entertainment provided a welcome respite from the farming crisis that hit the communities around it.
Martin Parr is a full member of Magnum Photographic Cooperative and has exhibited widely including the Barbican Gallery and the National Media Museum in Yorkshire. He has also been guest curator at the New York Photo Festival, the Brighton Photo Biennial and Artistic Director for Rencontres D’Arles.
by Miranda Charalambous
The exhibition, The Ceremony of Life: Early Works by Martin Parr opens at The Photographer’s Gallery, 16 – 18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW
Telephone: +44 (020) 7087 9300
Front page image: Martin Parr, Steep Lane Baptist Chapel buffet lunch, Sowerby, Calderdale, West Yorkshire, England, UK, 1977, From the series “The Non-Conformists”, Courtesy of Martin Parr/Magnum Photos/Rocket Gallery