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October 2002
Martin Parr in Bradford
Little girl with ice cream next to little boy on front at New Brighton in the 1980s
From The Last Resort (c) Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford is hosting a major retrospective of the work of photographer Martin Parr. We went along to meet him...
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Martin Parr's Profile

BBC - Blast: Interview with Martin Parr

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The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television

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EXHIBITION
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Martin Parr: Photographic Works 1971 - 2000 is at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford from October 4 2002 - January 5 2003.

Exhibition admission charge: £5 (concessions available). Box Office: 01274 203305.

The museum is closed on Mondays.

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Martin Parr is one of the best-known and influential photographers working in Britain today and now a major exhibition of his work, previously seen at London's Barbican, has come to Bradford.

The exhibition spans the whole of Parr's career as a photographer from his study of June Street in Salford in 1972 to more recent preoccupations like Common Sense (1999), a close-up study of today's throwaway culture with its images of hot dogs, toy cars and bubble gum.

Although a southern suburban lad Parr had frequently visited his grandparents before moving north to study at Manchester Polytechnic and living for a while in Hebden Bridge in the 1970s where he produced black and white photos, sometimes said to be his most empathetic, of a way of life that was even then disappearing.

Here, amongst other things, is the Ancient Order of Hen-Pecked Husbands, a local Jubilee Party and a study of the ageing congregation of Crimsworth Dean Methodist Chapel. Parr says: "When I came to Hebden Bridge I was very much interested in the documentation of the community and traditional aspects of northern life. Having discovered it first when I came to Bradford in the summers in the sixties, it struck me this is a place to go. It is visually a very dramatic town and I picked out the small Methodist and Baptist chapels because they seemed to epitomise the traditional lifestyles that were in decline so I felt very much as though I was photographing a type of society that was declining which indeed it was. It's another era. Now when I look back on it I am sure there are still small chapels going but most of the ones I photographed are now housing."

Members of a chapel congregation sitting under a picture of The Last Supper
Steep Lane Baptist Chapel, Yorkshire, 1976 (c) Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

The Last Resort, Parr's first major book, looks at the Merseyside resort of New Brighton between 1983 and 1986. By then he had changed his camera format using bright colour to depict day trippers at this working-class resort that had fallen on bad times. He says: "I was starting to question the whole idea of whether this black and white photography nostalgic feel was correct for the time that we lived in."

Throughout his career Parr has concentrated on the ordinary and the everyday and this has led to considerable controversy about how his work should be taken. How does he view the subjects of his photos? What is he actually saying about the daytrippers in the New Brighton fish and chip shop?

He comments: "The criticism came not from within Merseyside because the photos were immediately shown at the Open Eye photographic gallery in Liverpool and people went in, and they said, 'this is what it's like' but as soon as the same pictures came south to London people were up in arms and said this was exploiting the working classes because they (the critics) were not aware of what life is like in the north.

"Of course, New Brighton is very shabby, very rundown, but people still go there because it's the place where you take kids out on a Sunday. That's where the funfair is and it's still a treat but it has this backdrop of litter and grot which of course lends itself to photography, and I was pretty aware of that."

Complaints about the photographer as a social tourist are not new. He says: "Photography is by its nature exploitative. It's whether you use this process with a sense of responsibility or not. I feel that I do so. My conscience is clear."

He adds: "I'm always outside of things but I'm part of things to. Criticism is hypocrisy, society is hypocrisy. I'm a tourist. I'm a consumer. I do the things that I photograph and can be criticized of."

After The Last Resort Parr moved down south to Bristol to look at the upwardly mobile - it was the Thatcher years!

The exhibition reflects many of the other themes explored by Parr over thirty years including unlikely images of travel and tourism (Small World), a series on fake cherry blossom in Tokyo shop windows as well as a major study of studio portraiture in all its varieties.

One project undertaken since this exhibition was put together is of people on mobile phones throughout the world: "Part of what I am doing now is to document the homogenization of the world. When I started out as a photographer in the days of innocence in the early seventies I was almost celebrating life, now I'm a critic of it so that's how my role has changed but, you know, the world had changed enormously in that time as well so I feel that it is correct that I approach to the subject matter."

Parr says if he has one motto it is the celebration of the ordinary and the everyday: "I think the ordinary is a very under-exploited aspect of our lives because it is so familiar."

If you want to see what Martin Parr makes of the mundane then get along to the exhibition. There are around 150 works and several installations on display.

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