Category Archives: Project 4: A British tradition

Exercise: Peter Dench England Uncensored

England Uncensored

Read the article on England Uncensored by the BBC Editor Phil Coomes:

Dench talks about his “humorous approach with an underlying social commentary”
What do you think of this approach ? Does it work? What are the ethical issues?

England Uncensored is reminiscent of Martin Parr’s The Last Resort which “still has the power to shock and amuse all at the same time” ( 29/2/12). Parr’s brash and colourful photography had a big impact on Dench’s own working practice , something he acknowledges stating ” as a photographer I embrace that influence. I would like to think I would have arrived at the style of photography I have regardless of Parr; he certainly hastened the process and blazed a path for its acceptance as a photographic way of seeing” ( 29/2/12) . Interestingly he says his own style of photography is additionally inspired by writers and comedians , including a favourite columnist of mine Tim Dowling.

Dench’s candid and frequently humorous images can also be positively cruel .His website provides links to a vast variety of his work , the images are both funny , some made me laugh out loud , but are also strangely depressing at times. His observational skills are clearly well honed in capturing the absurdity of everyday life and “ in an increasingly litigious era where lawyers will take up their cudgels on behalf of anyone who feels they may have been offended , violated or harassed by a photographer” (Howarth & McLaren 2010 p.g11 ) .Furthermore he “makes no attempt to conceal the fact he is a photographer……shooting wide and as close as possible” (photography monthly 24/11/10) .

The illusion of a green and pleasant land is shattered , the images provide a window for viewers to observe a less than genteel vision of England in the 21st Century. The morality of publishing images of individuals captured in less than ideal behaviour is a complex issue yet despite my discomfort at some of the images I don’t feel Dench has overstepped ethical boundaries or is making a judgmental comment on the subjects . Whilst I believe privacy should be respected the images were taken in public spaces and Dench did not hide the fact of what he was doing , but must admit I would not like to be caught on camera like this . Despite the initial amusement the images tell a more sombre narrative and because of the humour their impact is all the more profound.

I found this interesting article HERE . The photographer , unlike Dench , disguised himself to take surreptitious images of prostitutes , yet I feel their dignity has not been compromised despite his covert method. As photographers in public spaces are increasingly viewed with suspicion the ethical boundaries are constantly changing and whilst I personally would not be comfortable using Dench’s methods I do not disapprove it. 

References / Bibliography

Howarth , S and McLaren , S ( 2010) “Street Photography Now” . London. Thames and Hudson Ltd
Accessed 16/8/15
Accessed 14/6/15 & 16/8/15
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Accessed 17/8/15

Exercise : Martin Parr territory

Read the document ‘Martin Parr : Photographic Works 1971-2000‘ by the National Museum of Photography , Film and Television . Core resources :Parr pdf.

Watch an audio slide show of Martin Parr talking about his progression from B&W to colour photography and The Last Resort .In this video Martin Parr acknowledges what he calls ” hypocrisy and prejudice” in his work. What do you think about this statement ? Write a short reflective commentary in your blog.

I have been to two Parr exhibitions this year –notes  here & here

Parr had a conventional middle class upbringing . His interest in photography was fuelled by his grandfather, a keen amateur photographer , who took him on day trips to run-down Northern seaside towns. A contemporary of Daniel Meadows , and influenced by the British photographer Tony Ray-Jones , Parr became fascinated with the erosion of traditional British society , class and consumerism. He began to photography exclusively in colour in 1982.

The Last Resort 1983-6

Parr’s images of the working classes enjoying their leisure time in the declining resort of New Brighton seem , on first viewing , judgemental . The litter strewn and run down area is populated by families holidaying against a backdrop of deprivation. Whist junk food addicted holidaymakers epitomise how the working class are perhaps frequently perceived by those of a different social class. Yet despite the photographs being funny , surreal and undeniable cruel they have a strange poignancy about them.”The Last Resort is a depressing series of images , and they depict the British working class in an unforgiving light. But , there is a profound sense of sadness in this series ” ( Parr pdf. p.g 7 ) . Using flash and highly saturated colour the brash images contradict the confident self- assertiveness perception of Thatcher’s Britain but document instead ” a supposedly affluent society falling apart at the seams” (Parr pdf. p.g 7 ) .

Parr’s method of working to produce an acerbic comment on society has become his hallmark yet he considers his work both hypocritical and prejudiced . Parr , influenced by middle-class mores , undoubtably has pre-conceived ideas regarding class status , it is impossible to work in a moral vacuum. He willingly admits his work objectifies the people he documents hence making them objects of consumerism , the very thing he is criticising.

References / Bibliography

Martin Parr : Photographic Works 1971-2000′ by the National Museum of Photography , Film and Television . Core resources :Parr pdf.

Accessed 13/8/15

Exercise : Changing face of Britain

Read Brett Roger’s introduction to the online gallery of Documentary Dilemmas

Follow the ‘Glossary’ link

It might be useful to read the Arts Council document Changing Britain as a brief contextual background to Documentary Dilemmas.

Core resources :ChangingBritain.pdf

Documentary, initially used as a term for moving pictures in the 1920’s , has a long tradition of using photography to authentically represent real life situations . Photographers such as Bill Brandt –see my earlier notes HERE highlighted social inequality . Whilst this remained a topic explored by a new breed of photographers political change in the 1970’s meant they no longer wanted to visually communicate “British courage and determination in the face of adversity” ( ChangingBritain.pdf. p.g 5 ) . Furthermore in 1973 the Arts Council began to build up a photography collection by buying and commissioning photographic works giving new photographers an outlet for their work.

New milestones of documentary

Look at the work of the photographers highlighted and others.

Paul Graham b1956

Beyond Caring 1984-5

At the start of the 18980’s Graham was one of the initial photographers to move away from traditional B&W documentary photography. Funded by the Greater London Council his undercover images of gloomy unemployment offices lit by harsh fluorescent strip light reflect the depressing political climate of the time. By 1982 the unemployment figures peaked at over 3 million , unprecedented since the 1930’s , the social isolation created by the loss of traditional working class industries is made quite apparent by the insular and introverted stance and lack of eye contact between the hapless ‘clients’ of the benefits system.

Anna Fox b1961

Her subject matter is the ordinary and the everyday , but she approaches it with an artist’s eye for the absurd and the revealing” (O’Hagan 2014

Her website is fascinating and I find the images compelling , and at times slightly grotesque , surreal and thought provoking.

Much of her work is autobiographical , whilst her father was ill she kept a notebook recording his verbal outbursts whilst taking photographs of her mother’s cupboards. Designed as a book My Mother’s Cupboards and my Fathers Word’s the combination of text and imagery conveys a sense of absurdity and Fox herself describes it as “quite an evil book” (youtube) . The book is small with a pink cover , something that can be easily slipped into a pocket or handbag. Despite being deeply personal the narrative is one people can identify with.

A critical examination of working life during Thatcherism. Sardonic captions accompany the colour photographs of London offices in the 1980’s.

Paul Reas b1955

The growth of consumerism and the loss of traditional industry changed the dynamic of British society . Shot in colour Reas’s images of shoppers are frequently humorous but rather depressing. The bold flash lit images were shot “in colour because I was aware of the psychology of selling” ( .

Photographers below see link to earlier notes I made:

Julien Germain


Chris Killip


Daniel Meadows


References / Bibliography 

Changing Britain Documentary Photography from the Arts Council Collection.
Core resources :ChangingBritain.pdf
Paul Graham 
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Accessed 27/7/15
O’Hagan , S
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