2 for 1 on Martin Parr – A Study Visit

I took the opportunity to take my camera up to London and top and tailed the double-header study visit with a wander around the city taking some photographs.  However, as this blog is specifically about the photography degree course and not about some random photographs I have taken I have posted them as a 3 by 3 grid on my other blog but you can access them here if you were curious to see them.

Exhibitions:
Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers, Barbican, London, and
Unseen City: Photos by Martin Parr, Guildhall Art Gallery, London
Date: Saturday 7 May 2016

And so to the study visit(s) which was really a double dose of Martin Parr, first as curator and then as photographer…

First up was the Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers exhibition at the Barbican. The following extract has been taken from the Barbican’s website

“Curated by the iconic British photographer Martin Parr, Strange and Familiar considers how international photographers from the 1930s onwards have captured the social, cultural and political identity of the UK.

From social documentary and portraiture to street and architectural photography, the exhibition celebrates the work of leading photographers, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rineke Dijkstra, Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand. Bringing together over 250 compelling photographs and previously unseen bodies of work, Strange and Familiar presents a vibrant portrait of modern Britain.”

The good thing about these visits, apart from meeting up with other students and OCA tutor, is that you get exposure to so many photographers, which helps to broaden knowledge and awareness of different photographic techniques, styles, influences, presentation and much more.

I couldn’t possibly comment on everything that I saw as there was far too much.  As a result I have picked out a few of my ‘take-away’s from the exhibition:

My favourite photographs at the exhibition were by Sergio Larrain (b. 1931 d. 2012) a Chilean photographer.  You can find a selection of his photographs (and a profile) on the Magnum Photos website.  His photographs in the exhibition were from 1958/1959.  The main reason I liked his photographs was for his choices of composition.  I think you can see the care he took over his compositions, which at times reflected an element of humour.  He used space, blurring, perspective, reflections and angles, as well as taking photographs on the angle (‘dutch’ angles), all to good effect.

Generally I am drawn to portraits as my preferred photographic genre, however, I’ll be honest I did not enjoy Bruce Gilden’s portraits one bit. If it’s an impact you want to make then his portraits is how you would do it.  You could potentially leave the exhibition with his portraits etched on your visual cortex as they are one of the last sets in the exhibition.  Why did I not like them; brash colours, subjects were alternative in their appearances (I’m being kind) and their faces filled the frame, which was large (floor to ceiling).  It looked like a bit of a freak show and I just wonder what Martin Parr was trying to say by including them.  Maybe it is a narrative to say  we are now caricatures of ourselves, anything goes and where bolder and brighter is better….

On the exhibition as a whole, I enjoyed the concept and being reminded of days gone by; times when people would read a newspaper in groups on the street, the milkman would deliver milk to and collect ’empties’ from your doorstep, uniforms were much more formal, smoking was allowed everywhere and anywhere, dogs freely roamed the streets and faces seemed more weathered.  From this perspective the exhibition captured an essence of every day British life through the years which at the time would have seemed normal.  As things change the normal of the past becomes the abnormal of the future, which suggests the normal of today will become the abnormal of tomorrow and photographers are key players in documenting now for the future.

The other photographers included in the exhibition (and apologies if I’ve missed any) were Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edith Tudor-Hart, Paul Strand, Robert Frank, Sergio Larrain, Garry Winogrand, Candida Hofer, Glles Peress, Akihiko Okamura, Evelyn Hofer, Jim Dow, Axel Huite, Bruce Davidson, Frank Habicht, Shinro Ohtake, Tina Barney, Rineke Dijkstra, Raymond Depardon, Bruce Gilden, Hans Van der Meer and Hans Eijkelboom.

If you decide to go, you would need at least an hour and half to walk round, longer if you wanted to stand and contemplate each photograph for any length of time.

The second exhibition was Unseen City: Photos by Martin Parr at the Guildhall Art Gallery.  The follow extract has come from the Guildhall website.

“View the City of London through the lens of acclaimed Magnum photographer Martin Parr. Explore the pomp, ceremony and behind-the-scenes activity as Parr brings the City to life, capturing the traditions and people who make up the colourful Square Mile.”

In contrast to the first exhibition, this was small which after the previous photographic marathon was a bit of a relief.  A selection of Martin Parr’s photographs gave you a behind the scenes view of traditional ceremonies and royal entourage.  The places and views inaccessible to all but a few privileged people.  The series you could see was ‘put together’ although at first glance you might have thought otherwise e.g. two photographs which when side by side had lined groups facing each other.  In the back room the subjects in the photographs faced towards a large painting on the wall, almost in salute of it.  The bright and vibrant colours suited the series.  I did notice that in some photos parts of the image which you might have thought should be in focus weren’t and it wasn’t obvious why.  It could be that with the photos enlarged to the size they were some sharpness was lost.

It was a good but long day and by the end my brain was awash with ideas, questions and research points.  I’m sure there is more I could have shared but I believe there will also be a review going up on the OCA website which I will link to here when it has.

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