Policed by men and women armed with their camera and their conscience photojournalism remained a bastion of 20th century photographic values. Humanistic, politically engaged, liberal and serious. In 1994, British photographer Martin Parr breached this final frontier when he applied to join photojournalism's super-agency Magnum.
"I wanted to join Magnum because at heart I'm a populist and I wanted to have this method of getting my work out. I thought if I joined an agency I may as well join the most prestigious agency." (Martin Parr)
Founded as a cooperative in 1947 by legendary photographers like Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, Magnum had built its reputation on searing images of conflict and suffering in far flung places.
"Magnum photographers were meant to go out as a crusade ... to places like famine and war and ... I went out and went round the corner to the local supermarket because this to me is the front line." (Martin Parr)
Parr's territory was very different from the Magnum veterans. The scruffy beaches of New Brighton, for instance, packed with working class holiday makers. Not surprisingly Parr's application brought Magnum's old guard to the barricades, as the following exchange between Parr and Magnum veteran Philip Jones Griffiths reveals:
Jones Griffiths: "Anyone who was described as Margaret Thatcher's favourite photographer certainly didn't belong in Magnum. His photographs titillate in some way, but the fact is that they are meaningless." (Phillip Jones Griffiths, Photographer)
Parr: "The principle objection would be that I would appear to be cynical, voyeuristic, exploitative. All these were the words that I heard." (Martin Parr)
When the members came to the final ballot Parr scraped in by one vote.
Jones Griffiths: "I think he certainly heralded a major change in Magnum and it's possible to get on the Magnum website and have to reach for one's anti-nausea pill." (Phillip Jones Griffiths, Photographer)
Parr: "Like anything, I think that Magnum has to change, Magnum has to expand and since I became a member and the other people who have joined, in a sense, have been essential to its creative ongoing survival ..."(Martin Parr)