Unfortunately the slide show referred to in the course notes is no longer available so it is difficult to gauge the exact context of Martin Parr’s remark about “hypocrisy and prejudice”. Although it is true that he has been criticised in the past for being deliberately provocative in his satirical view of British people, this criticism has now retreated somewhat so that the satire is viewed in a more gentle light.
In response to Parr’s proposed associate membership of Magnum, Philip Jones Griffiths wrote a letter strongly criticising Marr’s work as acting against the spirit of social justice that was one of the founding rules of the agency. Artspace describes how Parr’s proposed membership identified a generational split with older photographers regarding Parr as epitomising “the equivocation they perceived in the younger generation” (Editors,s.d.).
In his preface to “Only Human” Philip Prodger remarks that “pictures which once seemed bitterly satirical, such as those of New Brighton in Merseyside during the Thatcher years, published as The Last Resort (1986), now seem gentler and less acerbic”(Prodger,2019:8).
It may well be that time is the major factor in the difference between the two positions; we have become more used to Parr’s (and others) work, so that what once would seem transgressive no longer has the same power to shock. Since I was not aware of Martin Parr in 1994, or indeed at all until around ten years ago, I can’t say with any certainty how I would have felt about his work at the time of first publication. I suspect I might have been on the negative side but that says as much about the polarisation in society at the time as anything.
Having heard and met Martin Parr on an OCA study visit to Bristol last year, I don’t find his work to be at all patronising. In fact I sometimes feel there is a degree of condescension in the way that Parr’s critics will deride him for portraying his subjects in an unflattering way. Most of his subjects have decided for themselves to act and dress in the way they do, and it seems to me that most would not at all be ashamed of their lives. Martin Parr may exaggerate colours but is not depicting something that was not already there through the subject’s own choice.
In a video of Parr giving advice to students he remarks that as students if we are unable to find one’s own voice we might well end up using someone else’s. As a student myself I find this especially relevant as adopting the style and tone of other better photographers is part of the whole learning experience. However if I were to try and ‘borrow’ some of Parr’s general style as a jumping off point, I’m not sure it would lead to anything new. I know I won’t find out unless I try but there is to a certain extent a feeling that his work has taken this style – exaggerated colours, fill-in flash, close-ups – as far as it can and should go.
Prodger, P. et al. (2019) Only Human: Photographs by Martin Parr (Photography). (01 edition) (s.l.): Phaidon Press.
Editors, A. (s.d.) Who Do You Think You Are? On the Significance of Martin Parr’s Brutally Honest Photography. At: http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/martin-parr (Accessed 31/07/2020).
thegarethlloyd76 (2014) Martin Parr Parrs Advice. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tg6VTRjIXmk (Accessed 31/07/2020).