Martin Parr : The Non-Comformists

Exhibition at Compton Verney , Warwickshire.

Visited Sunday 31st May 2015

Martin Parr.The Non-Conformists

Martin Parr is best known for his colour photography but his first significant body of work from the mid 70’s was the B&W images taken between 1975 and 1980 of Hebdon Bridge and the Calder Valley , Yorkshire . Having completed his art studies Parr moved to the area he then documented. His images of the surrounding landscape and its inhabitants record a very traditional British way of life that was already in decline.

I found it very different to his distinctive later work that I am more familiar with . I like Parr’s luridly saturated candid documentary style but these are much gentler observations , the humour more subtle. There is also a poignancy , a glimpse of a lost social landscape and tightly knit communities that now hardly exist.

The exhibited 75 images accompanied with wonderful descriptive text written by his wife Susie were displayed in three interconnecting areas. On reading that the roomful of elderly men seen in one image were all members of The Ancient Order of Hen Pecked Husbands at their AGM made me (& my husband) laugh out loud , the context changed by the additional information    .

Cleverly observed and using juxtaposition a well dressed woman sugars her tea beneath a frieze of The Last Supper at Boulderclough Methodist Chapel , .

Whilst a young boy in shorts aims a toy machine gun at an outdoor service of three chapels from behind a cenotaph.

At the head of queue outside a picture house waiting to see Jaws is a young girl , mouth open and teeth bared , that seems to mimic the poster behind.

Two elderly ladies appear to be asleep at the Mankinholes Methodist Chapel ,  a funny but strangely touching image too.

Also on display were the winning entries from the Compton Verney 2015 photography competition ‘A Sense of Britain’. It is interesting to compare how each finalist interpreted the brief, my personal favourite is the middle image below. Isolated between two rather large individuals casually dressed in bright yellow tops sits a well dressed Sikh gentleman , the epitome of a well dressed Englishman in his suit , gazing ahead as pigeons peck around his well shod feet. A comment on our multi-cultured nation and a clever observation of modern-day Britishness.

Compton Verney


3 thoughts on “Martin Parr : The Non-Comformists

  1. Catherine

    You can really see the early beginnings of Parr’s style here. Up close and personal and from a particular standpoint. These early ones don’t seem to have that streak of mild cruelty about them either – showing quirkiness rather than laughing at it.


  2. Pingback: Exercise : Martin Parr territory | Judy Bach: Open College of the Arts Documentary Blog

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