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Martin Parr at the Hepworth

An impromptu trip to the Hepworth on a rainy Saturday afternoon (what other kind of Saturday afternoon is there in Yorkshire at the moment!) and I find the man himself shooting portraits for £300 a go. Along with a crew and an open studio for anyone to watch. A bit of a treat! Especially to discover he still says, ‘say cheese’. Unfortunately, with the constant in and out of punters, I didn’t feel I could interrupt for a chat!

Below are my photo-notes from the exhibition – these are shots of the context plates alongside the photos and show the breadth and depth of the work on display in this retrospective; 300 photos covering 40 years the Hepworth explains.

I’ve long been an admirer of Parr’s work, with his ‘bad weather’ series being an inspiration for me to get out and take pictures, whatever the weather. And his book, ‘the last resort’, encouraged me to embrace colour photography as a medium for street photography – having earlier been indoctrinated by the hoards suggesting B&W is the only way and referencing Henri Cartier Bresson et al.

Parr has been widely interviewed in the press about the exhibition. In the Telegraphy, he is disarmingly honest about his hit rate for the Rhubarb Triangle:

I suggest … he must have finessed the formula for taking a quintessential “Parr” photograph. “You are after iconic moments,” he concedes, “but they are very difficult to produce. Most of the pictures I take are not very good. For the rhubarb commission, I took three or four thousand – and ended up with 40. If I knew how to take a great photo, I would stop.

What was my sense of the exhibition:

  • The vast body of work left me with a sense of urgency to take far more photographs. Perhaps I am too selective in what and when I shoot and may be missing opportunities.
  • The vivid colours of Parr’s work are as summer music is to my ears. There is light and vivacity. They are somehow up lifting. Despite the sometimes grim subject matter, the photos bring out the bright-side of life. We can laugh at the human condition.
  • The work was pinned to the wall in print format – no framing or mounting. The first time I’d seen this approach in an exhibition. This approach made the work seem more accessible – and this appeared evident in the crowds visiting the exhibition.
  • While Parr’s subject matter was always the banal, his series always explore defined aspects of the banal. It the combinations of images within a theme that helps make them more engaging. It feels like we are exploring a subject through the images.

Apologies for smudging – old iPhone with mouldy lens!


BBC Arts [website] . All systems grow: Martin Parr and the Rhubarb Triangle. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/5db1BBQfJcMfLTHS8bJv1ys/all-systems-grow-martin-parr-and-the-rhubarb-triangle [accessed 26.2.16]

Hepworth [website]. Martin Parr. Available from: http://www.hepworthwakefield.org/martin-parr/ [accessed 26.2.16]

Magnum Photos [website]. Book – Bad Weather. http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&ALID=29YL53GUHDY [accessed 26.2.16]

Telegraph [website]. Martin Parr: ‘If I knew how to take a great photo, I’d stop’. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/photography/what-to-see/martin-parr-if-i-knew-how-to-take-a-great-photo-id-stop/ [accessed 26.2.16]



  1. Catherine says:

    I do think there’s a problem with ‘banal’ because it’s so relative. I’m sure those people who paid £300 were thrilled to have their photograph taken by Parr and it will probably go down in family history. Not to mention that they’ll actually have a print to pass down to their descendants!
    Did you learn anything in particular from watching him in action?

    • Andrew Fitzgibbon says:

      Yes, you’re right about ‘banal’ and everything is relative to one’s own perspective and environment – but certainly banal in relation to my environment. I’m sure the people being photographed were thrilled and found value in the photographer as celebrity, similarly to football fans who pay for their kids to walk onto the pitch with the players. And there is definitely something about this kind of photograph as an object in itself.

      I didn’t learn much from watching the action – though I was impressed by the way Martin Parr engaged with his subjects and their children to get the most from their short time. Observations technically – everything was in place for super-fast turnaround; camera SD cards swapped out to computer, back-up team reviewing the shots with the subjects,large scale printer available for people to walk away with prints. Very slick and I think this was appreciated by the punters!

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