Martin Parr: Early Observations

From 3 March to 23 April, The Photographers Gallery, London, showcases a selection of early works from Martin Parr (b. 1952). Known best for honest and often critical portrayals of the Great British public, the 64-year-old has been unafraid to capture humanity in the exact light through which he experiences it. With a very personal style – both in subject matter and composition – Parr has been at the forefront of documentary photography since the 1970s. Part of the cooperative Magnum, the British artist belongs to an elite group founded by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, and has recently been given with Sony World Photography Awards lifetime achievement award.

Amongst various other themes that can often be seen in the practitioner’s vision – including the English class system – the juxtaposing sides of the economic spectrum play a large role, with one of the first mature works capturing the rural communities of West Yorkshire, focusing on the Baptist and Methodist chapels. The Non-Conformists (2013) demonstrates an unfeigned representation of the experiences and pastimes of a world untouched by modern technology with a great respect of tradition and undeniable boldness.

As well as the working classes, the British public acts as a recurring muse, captured unapologetically and without judgment. Beach scenes in popular holiday destinations such as Spain and India are often the settings for a period in history that put local fishing traditions in contrast with the ever-looming tourist. Using a technique coined by Cartier-Bresson as the “Decisive Moment” combined with an ability to move unobtrusively amongst the people, Parr became a master of documentary photography. The interest in anthropology deepened throughout the prolific career, one that captured the lives of the Middle-Upper class in The Cost of Living (1989). At the time of conception Margaret Thatcher was in power and under her Tory lead the countries middle class communities were thriving, all under the watchful eye of the lens.

The Ceremony of Life grants viewers the chance to see earlier work captured in the 1970s and 1980s, showcasing a glimpse of the environments that inspired and interested one of the world’s most engaging artists.

The Ceremony of Life: Early works by Martin Parr, 3 March – 23 April, The Photographers’ Gallery, London. For more information:

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1. Martin Parr, Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, England, UK, 1977. From The Non-Conformists © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Gallery.