Martin Parr on the Brighton Photo Biennial 2010

By Ben Miller | 24 September 2010
An altered portrait image of a man in a blue suit and glasses
Autoportrait (2008). Collection of Martin Parr, Brazil, Fortelaza
Martin Parr was working in South America when he first caught sight of two of the stars of this year’s Biennial. “I thought ‘boy, these are good’,” he tells us, recalling his introduction to the artists he now refers to as “my two Argentines”. “I knew that was it – this was the type of work we were looking to show.”

A year on, Parr's discoveries will take to the University of Brighton Gallery for an illuminative show called A Night in Argentina. "One's called Alejandro Chaskielberg and the other's called Esteban Pastorino Diaz. What a great name, eh? No one's going to forget a name like that, except me. I saw eight photographers and they were all pretty good, but these two stood out and I immediately signed them up."

Calling them "part of the new shining light of Argentinean photography", Parr lauds the potential of his pair of prodigies. "At that point Alejandro hadn't finished his work – his pictures are a series of photographs taken at moonlight, usually portraits of people on the estuary near Buenos Aires.

A photo of a white building at night
Esteban Pastorino Diaz, Townhall (2000). Gonzales Chaves, from the series Salamone© Esteban Pastorino Diaz
"Esteban takes shots of these fascist buildings at night, using the natural light of the street. They really emphasise the fascist nature of this architecture in the 1930s. What's interesting is that they're both shooting at night, so that immediately gives you something very distinctive. Alejandro uses moonlight and flash combined – it’s this extremely weird combination, but he’s really pulled it off."

The deadpan purveyor of alternative England is not one for a soundbite, so asking Parr to blather about the programme he’s curated only encourages this erudite satirist to urge visitors to pursue their own wide-eyed conclusions. His tone is always understated, but it still spectacularly fails to mask a hyperactive mind and gleeful relish for his task.

"I have curated before, but it was a real privilege to be asked this time. I'm really excited about it," he says, calling Brighton "the perfect place for it." Taking bohemia by the sea as a starting point, he's asked a trio of artists to create Strange and Familiar, three different views of the city.

A photo of seaweed and an ant seen from a camera lens
Stephen Gill, Untitled. Extract from Outside In (2010), in association with the Archive of Modern Conflict© Stephen Gill
"We wanted some better known photographers – people who were, if you like, in mid-career – to come to Brighton and do their own version of the place," he explains.

"Stephen Gill literally put physical things in his camera – anything from live crabs to bits of seaweed, bits of Brighton if you like, and then combined that with shooting pictures. I think he'd had the idea before and wanted to expand on it, so this gave him the perfect opportunity to do that."

Japan's Rinko Kawauchi follows flocks of starlings swarming around the skeletal West Pier, a pack mentality she defines as Murmuration. "She was fascinated by that, and then she came back a few months later and decided to continue the theme by photographing people in and around Brighton moving about, a bit like the starlings do," says Parr.

A photo of two dogs on a lead
Carmen and Alec Soth, Untitled (2010). From the series Brighton Picture Hunt. Photoworks Commission© Carmen and Alec Soth
The third artist, American Alec Soth, has made a Brighton Picture Hunt which came perilously close to ending up in exile. "Alec got hauled in to immigration when he came into the country, so we really thought we had a problem in May," admits Parr.

"They let him in on the condition that he couldn't work, so he decided to do a collaboration with his seven-year-old daughter. It worked out pretty well. It's incredible to think that all three have photographed the same city, but their work is so different."

Among other highlights, a "dreamlike" architectural House of Vernacular installation fills Fabrica, contemporary photography from across the world invades a former Co-op store and Queer Brighton offers a view of the local LGBT community which Parr loves for its "vibrant freshness".

"The Biennale is a platform for me to share the work that I’ve discovered over recent years," he finishes. "The notion is that if I’m excited by it then I hope other people will share my excitement."

New Documents, the Brighton Photo Biennial, runs October 2 - November 14 2010. Visit for the full programme.

Logo for the Brighton Photo Biennial
Culture24 at the Brighton Photo Biennial 2010:
Artist's Statement: Alejandro Chaskielberg
Inside The House of Vernacular at Fabrica
Artist Molly Landreth on Queer Brighton
Video: Alec Soth on Brighton Picture Hunt
Our preview of the Brighton Photo Fringe
Five to see at the Fringe: Part One
Behind the Scenes: Three Views of Brighton
John Deakin's Gods and Monsters in Chichester
Laura Burgess on the education programme
"Cutting edge" programme announced for 2010
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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