New Brighton. 1985 - Image by Martin Parr
New Brighton, a popular beach resort suburb of Liverpool. I first came across Martin Parr's work from this project in 1987/88 when i saw a number of the photographs in a photography magazine advertising the release of the book. The combination of pin sharp, bright contrasty colour and witty observation certainly made the photography interesting to view, but even then, i detected what i believed to be a condescension of the subjects. It seemed to visually personify the era of the brash selfish eighties. It's pitiless representation of the north of England, summed up by one reviewer who described the 'victims' in Parr's images as “a sitting duck for a more sophisticated audience". Even as a young novice photographer it seemed rather unpleasant to me too. Almost instantly, Parr's work divided opinion in the photography world. Some critics loved the work and it's 'witty and humourous photographic style'. Others (like me and many of my fellow documentary photography students) failed to see the joke.... or like the photography style much.
Magnum's most commercially successful photographers, if not THE most successful currently. Recent work has included subjects such as luxury, photographing the rich and super rich and holiday resorts in South America. The majority of his commissions, around 80%, come from overseas, and yet Parr still hasn't won over many of his critics back in the UK. This has been put down to the level of success that photographer has achieved and the resulting bad feeling. According to Parr's supporters, envy is the key problem. Photographers envy his success. While that may be partially true, many photographers will have already made their own mind up about the photographer's work right from the start. Martin Parr as a photographer hasn't changed his style drastically and his influence has been immense. His style, use of colour and attitude has been favoured by many young contemporary photographers for years. Much of the criticism of the work may also stem from the easy way Parr's photojournalism work has been embraced by certain fine art photography circles - that can be an uneasy issue for many photojournalists For most people though, it is the photographer's work that remains the basis for the sometimes intensely critical regard that Martin Parr receives in his own country. Is he laughing at us? To be fair to the photographer, Parr seems to regard his subjects in the same manner regardless of geographical location.
Martin Parr's photography, his commercial success and influential appeal reflects the fact that LOTS of people really do love his work. As an influence on contemporary documentary photography, young photographers and the culture of photography in general over the last twenty years, no other photographer quite frankly even comes close.
All Images by Martin Parr
Top Left - Martin Parr, 2004: Portrait by Bill Jay
Top Right - The Last Resort [ice cream girl] 1983-86
Middle Left - Badminton Horse Trials, Gloucestershire from 'The Cost of Living'
Middle Right - Auchan hypermarket, Calais, France, 1988, from "One Day Trip"
Bottom Left: - Russia. Moscow. Millionaire's Fair. 2007
Bottom Right - Hollywood, attendees at a charity function, 2000
Martin Parr Portfolio/ Magnum
BBC Genius of Photography
Martin Parr/ The Sunday Times
Magnum Photos Blog/ Martin Parr
The Guardian/ Photographer Martin Parr's best shot
Books by Martin Parr
The Last Resort