Martin Parr: Photographic Works at the Barbican

Review by Jon Pratty | 07 February 2002
© Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Left: Calderdale, Steep Lane Baptist Chapel. Sowerby Bridge, 1976.

Here's the perfect antidote to the candy floss creations of Mario Testino at the National Portrait Gallery. This retrospective selection of Parr's distinctive documentary view of Britain is on until April 14 at the Barbican Gallery - and it makes a galvanising gallery experience.

I walked round the show at the Barbican after seeing the press view of the Testino exhibition and was astonished at the power of the Parr images. It's an uncompromising record of what it was like to live in Britain in the seventies, eighties and nineties.

© Martin Parr/ Magnum Photos

Right: Cost Of Living, Conservative Election Victory Party on SS Great Britain, 1989.

Here are revealing pictures of tight-knit communities in Yorkshire, day trips to the seaside and the underbelly of Thatcher's Britain. Parr pictures in an intimate, entertaining but unjudgemental way the extraordinary changes and evolutions in British society since the seventies.

Since his graduation from art college in the early 1970's (and his final show is recreated at the Barbican!) Parr has become one of the most influential photogrpahers in Britain.

Parr made his name in the eighties with The Last Resort, a photo series focussing on the dying resort of New Brighton. The Cost of Living followed - an exploration of middle-class rites and rituals in the comfortable shires. One Day Trip, a more recent work, explored the manic consumerism of cross-channel shoppers.

© Martin Parr/ Magnum Photos

Left: The Last Resort, New Brighton, 1983 - 86.

There's plenty of humour here, it's not po-faced polemic. Perhaps the most telling image is one that harks back 25 years but might have echoes right now: a grey and black shot of a Queen's jubilee street party in 1977. This is an eery scene, a cake and trifle strewn table abandoned by revellers, soaked and ruined by stair-rod rain.

It's high time, in my opinion, that Parr's exceptional vision was appreciated more by the arts establishment. If Richard Billingham's home snaps can be shortlisted for the Turner Prize, and Wolfgang Tillmanns handed the award, then surely Parr should win too.

This free show is well worth the trek through the concrete landscape of the Barbican - visitors can also see Transition: The London Art Scene in the Fifties.

If you've seen the show - tell us what you think.

24 Hour Museum reader Joe Cribbin has sent his reaction to the Barbican's Martin Parr show:

"I thought the show was great. Martin Parr's work is powerful, funny and sometimes quite shocking. He has a great eye for detail and the details give so much away like the cup of tea on a china cup on a gingham table cloth. There is definately a very British sentiment in his work which combines humour and scepticism but never goes over the top.

It is a shame it is so expensive at £7 a go but it was worth it. You might wonder if the subject's of Parrs work would be able to afford to see it."

Joe Cribbin

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