Martin Parr : Black Country Stories. Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Visited Thursday 6/8/15

Parr was initially commissioned by Multistory to document daily life in Sandwell , a district in the Black Country , over a twelve month period. The project was so successful locally that Parr continued to travel across the whole area known as the Black Country , which includes Wolverhampton , Dudley and Walsall.

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 11.40.26
I went with my husband and we were initially the only two people looking around the free exhibit , which was great as we could spend longer viewing the images and it gave us a chance to chat with the curator . He told us the exhibition , which had initially been busy in the opening weeks , had become rather quieter recently with visitors frequently looking in briefly then walking straight out again . Maybe some visitors , unfamiliar with Parr’s photography , were expecting perhaps more scenic images , not ones like this here , which I think exemplifies Parr’s ability to notice and give significance to the mundane. The plastic bags were left over chairs by West Bromwich football fans (known as Baggies ) following a match with Wolverhampton , the connotation simply sublime !

The image of Wolves football fans–see above at the top of the page – was our favourite. Printed large scale the detail was incredible , not something that can be appreciated simply by looking at it on a screen or in a book . It was hung on a back wall , not immediately on view when entering the display area , and the curator agreed with us that this should have been placed at the entrance to the exhibit as it has such an imposing presence.

There was a selection of other large scale and slightly smaller prints arranged around the white walled display area.The Black Country has a large diverse multi-cultural population and the portraits were both eclectic and visually outstanding see image here . I found his portraiture exceptional and not something I was expecting to discover.

The area was once one of the most industrialised in the country but no working coal mines remain and many of the traditional industries are in decline and have gone. However smaller factories remain and prosper , Parr’s large scale image of father and son see here was particularly cogent .

My iPhone images below are not particular good but give an idea of the exhibition lay out.




The Wolverhampton Archive

An entire wall was covered in hundreds of smaller prints , and the curator , a Parr fan, told us his favourite Parr image from the selection on the wall changes from week to week . This week his choice was of a notice in a shop window asking women to donate old bras for charity . The humour is subtle , as he pointed out the bras provide support in two senses of the word , not something I initially picked up on !

To make the archive accessible Parr arranged for copies of 10 x 8 inch prints to be available to buy for £12 each with a maximum of four per person. I was going to purchase some for myself but unfortunately they were all sold out but I am not sure how I would have been able to chose just four out of the available prints though !

Parr 2
Four short films made by Parr were included in the exhibition but we only had time to watch two:
Turkey & Tinsel & Tudor Crystal .

Link to short clips of the films here

Turkey and Tinsel
Follows a group of pensioners from their Black Country homes on a trip to Weston-Super-Mare.The film was a mix of laugh out loud moments with moments of pure pathos as they celebrated Christmas and New Year in November. The music accompanying the film was interesting — In the Bleak Midwinter accompanying sombre scenes of the desolate winter seaside and the ageing guests whilst the pensioners dancing to Show Me the Way to Amarillo brought to mind Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights ! A few people ambled in whilst we were watching it but did not stay to watch the film in its entirety–we loved it.

Tudor Crystal
A more serious but interesting film about a firm of traditional Glassmakers based in Stourbridge .

I wish we had allowed more time to be able to watch the other two films.

Oral histories were also available to listen to describing life and memories of the Black Country.

The combination of prints , film and audio form a comprehensive documentary and additionally an important archive of the Black Country, well worth a visit. Parr’s short video below is also well worth watching and gives an insight into his working method. A book is available and I shall probably buy it as I really enjoyed the exhibition.
Accessed 8/7/15
Accessed 8/7/15
Accessed 8/7/15
Accessed 8/7/15


2 thoughts on “Martin Parr : Black Country Stories. Wolverhampton Art Gallery

  1. Catherine

    Sounds such fascinating Exhibition Judy. I’m not surprised you enjoyed it so much. I know Parr can seem cruel in his photography at times but he also has a wonderful knack of bringing people’s personality and character to the fore. They become real people rather than still images.


  2. Judy Bach Post author

    Yes Catherine I agree his work often seems to mock but listening to him talk I feel he also has a real empathy with the people he photographs. This came across strongly listening to him talk and in the Tinsel & Turkey Film , he is genuinely interested in people.



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