Martin Parr Study Visit

Study visit – Martin Parr foundation, Bristol

Prior to this visit I was familiar with some of Martin’s work but really only a small subset of his output over the years. Selected images featured in various books on art photography, a Val Williams essay on an early photograph of a street party, and most recently a copy of ‘Life’s a Beach’. Enough though to form an impression of who I would expect to meet on the day. I am aware of some previous criticisms of his work; that he is too cynical, and that he is just interested in poking fun at his subjects. I’ve never seen that in his work; it has always seemed to me that his subjects are allowed to show themselves as they really are, warts and all as the phrase goes.

The Martin Parr Foundation itself is showing an selection of Tony Ray-Jones photos, curated by Martin Parr, which is a very interesting set anyway but also cements the link between the two photographers. There is often more direct humour in Ray-Jones work but the celebration of English “oddness” is a theme very much common to both.

The illustrated talk itself was loosely autobiographical but without being overtly chronological. This allowed Martin to demonstrate clearly his fascination with various themes that recur throughout his work; leisure, beaches, eccentricity, kitsch in general. Having purchased a copy of ‘Only Human’ afterwards (which Martin was only too happy to sign) I realised that a lot of his presentation came from the same show that generated this book. Nothing wrong with that; with little formal expectation of what format the talk would take I could never be disappointed anyway. In the end what came through most strongly to me was his generosity of spirit; the openness that he depicts on others is a natural part of his own personality. He was only too happy to answer questions at any time of the talk, and pretty much on any subject as well. He came across throughout as thoroughly likeable and all told this was a very enjoyable day

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