The New European - - Eurofile Photography - RICHARD HOLLEDGE talks to pho­tog­ra­pher Mar­tin Parr about Brexit, Manch­ester and the fine line be­tween mock­ing and cel­e­brat­ing his sub­jects

As­mall tex­tile fac­tory in the Manch­ester of the early 1970s. Bare walls, strip light­ing, func­tional. Three women are pho­tographed work­ing with quiet in­dus­try. Spool for­ward to 2018. An­other tex­tile works in the same city, ev­ery bit as util­i­tar­ian. Here 16 men and women are em­ployed but these are by no means Man­cu­nian born and bred – each one is of a dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­ity.

The con­trast says some­thing – says a lot – about the way im­mi­gra­tion has af­fected the city over 40 years and ex­plains why, for some, the vote for Brexit was a call to limit the num­ber of for­eign­ers ‘com­ing over here and tak­ing our jobs’.

The pair of im­ages are in an ex­hi­bi­tion by pho­tog­ra­pher Mar­tin Parr en­ti­tled Re­turn to Manch­ester which shows pic­tures taken from his days as a polytech­nic stu­dent in 1972 and on to vis­ual es­says over the years to the present day.

The pic­ture of the tex­tile work­ers is not meant to be overtly po­lit­i­cal, that is not Parr’s style, but the sig­nif­i­cance of the multi­na­tional work force is not lost on him. “I am a Re­moaner, of course,” he pro­claims. “Do you ever meet any­one in the lib­eral arts crew who isn’t? We are uni­ver­sally tainted with that vote. The trou­ble is that it is un­sur­mount­able. The coun­try is so di­vided I just don’t know how it will be re­solved.”

Had he no­ticed any change in the char­ac­ter of the coun­try as he tramped the streets of Manch­ester, cam­era in hand? Has Brexit made peo­ple less tol­er­ant, an­grier, even more op­ti­mistic?

“It’s dif­fi­cult to know. No, I don’t think so, but be­cause most of the peo­ple I know are so firmly in the Re­main camp that doesn’t af­fect me. I lit­er­ally don’t know any­one who is a Brex­iter. It’s like go­ing to Amer­ica and ask­ing if any­one is Repub­li­can. A lot of them won’t ad­mit it be­cause of Trump but you know that in those ru­ral con­stituen­cies there is sup­port.

“We know about the protest as­pect of it all; ‘up yours, this is our chance to scup­per the es­tab­lish­ment’. This was the one time that their vote would count when pre­vi­ously it didn’t.”

We should be talk­ing about the show but he has one more point to make. “Just to fin­ish... dur­ing the time of Thatcher in the 1980s doc­u­men­tary mak­ers flour­ished be­cause we col­lec­tively didn’t like her. It gave us an in­cen­tive. Pho­tograph­ing Bri­tain is a form of ther­apy for me show­ing the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tives about what we think about Bri­tain. The ante has risen so much since the Brexit vote and I am so pissed off with my fel­low Brits for vot­ing that way that ar­tis­ti­cally it has given me an in­cen­tive. To me it’s a pos­i­tive thing.

“In­ter­est­ingly, when I have my big show at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery next year the fi­nal room will be about Bri­tain in the time of Brexit. Not di­rectly, not marches, just to places where you get a feel­ing about what’s go­ing on.”

What we have here is Parr as chron­i­cler of the su­per­mar­ket, the bar­ber shop, the passerby. The hum­drum el­e­vated, if not to the ex­otic, cer­tainly to the quirky and al­ways the authen­tic.

The ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes scenes from the ‘real’ Corona­tion Street, taken in 1972 with pho­tog­ra­pher Daniel Mead­ows. The orig­i­nal street had been de­mol­ished so they found a sim­i­lar row of ter­races in nearby June Street.

The res­i­dents were pho­tographed in their front rooms, all of which have elec­tric fire­places, sur­rounded by their or­na­ments, pic­tures and pat­terned wall­pa­per. Or­di­nary folk caught in a mo­ment of time.

All the early work was shot in black and white – “be­cause colour was just for com­mer­cial work and snap­shots” – which serves to em­pha­sise the drab­ness of the city at the time. But in 1986 he was com­mis­sioned to record the shop­ping habits of the city in the project Point of Sale, Sal­ford 1986 and these were in colour.

He is clearly in his el­e­ment with hair­dressers in sa­lons painted in red and yel­low or with elab­o­rate wall­pa­per. A rather de­fi­ant butcher leans on a joint of meat, a biker in his hel­met checks out a video shop, and a women gather ten­ta­tively at a lin­gerie party. A doughty woman fills up her Ford Es­cort with petrol, and a baby is left in its pram out­side a bet­ting shop.

“Imag­ine see­ing that to­day. Wouldn’t hap­pen.”

For him this was the decade that the su­per­mar­ket re­placed the cor­ner shop and the term ‘shopa­holic’ be­came pop­u­lar. He is par­tic­u­larly keen on a cus­tomer check­ing out a bunch of broc­coli, a food un­usual to many and a sym­bol of a new shop­ping or­der.

For this project he was asked to keep a di­ary and what a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight it af­fords into his work­ing meth­ods; care­fully scout­ing about, chat­ting with po­ten­tial sub­jects and mak­ing sure they know what they are in for.

Frus­trat­ingly, though the notes are on dis­play, they are too small to read on screen and any­way whizz past too quickly but Parr’s eye for de­tail and his wry asides are pos­i­tively Alan Ben­nett.

For ex­am­ple:

Mon­day, 15th April. Early start at Bet­tys (sic) hair­dresser. She gets in at 8.10 ev­ery morn­ing. The star turns are Mrs Woodruff and her ex­tro­vert daugh­ter Iris who come on Mon­days and have been do­ing so now for 30 years.... they bring their own sand­wiches and Betty makes tea, not only for them and me but any­one else who is in the shop.

On May 15 he is sur­prised to find that on the del­i­catessen counter of the Coop Shop­ping Gi­ant “they used a ma­chine that gave you a ticket to en­sure you were served in the right or­der”. He de­cides to use flash there un­like Betty’s where the light is bet­ter.

And so it goes; triv­ial mat­ters of pas­sion­ate con­cern and pretty much the same rou­tine that he brought to his lat­est ven­ture Manch­ester 2018.

“The pro­ducer and I had a sweep of Longsight (a res­i­den­tial district south to

the south of the city) and just went in and asked to take pic­tures. Ob­vi­ously there has been a huge dif­fer­ence over the years.”

He was keen to shoot ar­eas like the North­ern Quar­ter, once a dis­mal no-man’s land now a lively cen­tre for cafes, restau­rants and mu­sic, and Me­dia City which was not even dreamt of 45 years ago.

“It seems there are two Manch­esters now, the new, gen­tri­fied dis­tricts and the likes of Bury mar­ket which re­mind me of my days in the seven­ties. It’s very re­as­sur­ing that it still ex­ists.”

It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to con­trast the seven­ties with to­day. His favourite ex­am­ples of the ex­tremes in­clude food such as a se­lec­tion of chunky rhubarb and goose­berry pies in Bury Mar­ket selling for 20p and a trio of tiny ‘En­ergy Balls’ from a fash­ion­able city cen­tre food cen­tre for £1.20 – 21st cen­tury style over good, old-fash­ioned sub­stance.

Com­pare the gloomy func­tion­al­ity of the Yates’s Wine Lodges of the 1980s, smoke-filled and cav­ernous, men in flat hats, women sip­ping sweet sherry, where the cus­tomers had to queue to be served, with Mackie Mayor, Manch­ester’s foodie Mecca (and home to the ex­pen­sive En­ergy Ball cakes).

Once a Vic­to­rian meat mar­ket, a gag­gle of eater­ies sell all sorts of in­ter­na­tional food un­der its vault­ing glass ceil­ing. It is bright, light and mod­ishly dec­o­rated. Though, this be­ing a Parr com­po­si­tion, one cus­tomer looks on glumly leav­ing us to won­der what his prob­lem is.

Ev­ery bit as rev­e­la­tory is the dif­fer­ence in the types of peo­ple pho­tographed to­day.

In the early pic­tures there are some black faces, prob­a­bly Caribbean, to­day there are more from the In­dian sub-con­ti­nent. One cap­tures a mother cel­e­brat­ing her daugh­ter’s 21st birth­day with some gusto, a group strut it at a Zumba class, we see Mus­lims pray­ing in the mosque.

In 2018, foot­ball fans cheer on the foot­ball gods (jux­ta­posed in the cat­a­logue along­side Mus­lims at prayer – a happy ac­ci­dent, says Parr) but in the early works en­ter­tain­ment was pro­vided by a miniskirted singer in a half-empty pub.

Me­dia City in Sal­ford opened in 2013 but al­ready the BBC of­fices are a tad shabby with strange curved pods for staff to meet and ex­change clever ideas. They look like a set for W1A, the com­edy satire on the Beeb. As one would hope there is a fold­away bike of the type favoured by the cast in one of the pic­tures.

In 2018, tat­toos are in, ties are off and train­ers on.

A hen party looks on with some ap­proval at a man hold­ing a gi­ant in­flat­able pe­nis, the gay com­mu­nity, hid­den in the seven­ties, is here in all its flam­boy­ance.

“That to me is progress,” says Parr.

“The tol­er­ance to the LGBT com­mu­nity when pre­vi­ously they would have been driven out of town, that’s a huge dif­fer­ence.” Parr has of­ten been crit­i­cised for, as he puts it, tak­ing the piss. A pic­ture edi­tor de­scribed him as “a gra­tu­itously cruel so­cial critic who has made large amounts of money by sneer­ing at the foibles and pre­ten­sions of other peo­ple”.

In the 2018 col­lec­tion a par­tic­u­larly nerdy in­di­vid­ual in a woolly hat sport­ing a beard and T-shirt read­ing, ‘This is what a ve­gan looks like’ might well be open to mock­ery but Parr says: “He was wear­ing

the T-shirt, I got per­mis­sion to pho­to­graph him with it on and he has been given a copy of the print. I told him what it was for – but he may not know he is a me­tre and a half high.

“I’ve been ac­cused of ev­ery­thing un­der the sun but we al­ways ask peo­ple and talk about what we want to do.

“This is just what hap­pened one week in Manch­ester. When I think about all the big­ger is­sues, ev­ery­thing from sus­tain­abil­ity to the fu­ture of Bri­tain, I get very de­pressed.”

“But I am an up­beat, pos­i­tive per­son. The hu­man qual­i­ties are the same. Peo­ple are still peo­ple, pre­dictable and

un­pre­dictable at the same time, tribal, yet dif­fer­ent. There are all these am­bi­gu­i­ties and con­tra­dic­tions in so­ci­ety and within peo­ple.

“My feel­ings about Bri­tain are a mix­ture of af­fec­tion and con­cern. I’m try­ing to ex­press that am­bi­gu­ity.”

What he did not see in his week in Manch­ester – or at least pho­to­graph – was a re­flec­tion of the city’s un­der­belly, the vi­o­lent crime, the sex at­tacks and rob­beries which are on the rise, the home­less­ness. On the 10-minute walk from the gallery to the sta­tion there are many sleep­ing rough.

But that is not his style. In the seven­ties

he made a doc­u­men­tary of Prest­wich Men­tal Hospi­tal, ex­hib­ited here, but rather than the bleak, gru­elling de­pic­tions of suf­fer­ing pa­tients one might an­tic­i­pate they are sym­pa­thetic, some­times hu­mor­ous.

So don’t ex­pect to be shocked but do look for­ward to see­ing the ev­ery­day in a new way. Parr says he will never be bored pho­tograph­ing peo­ple. There’s noth­ing bor­ing about the peo­ple he has pho­tographed in this show.

Mar­tin Parr Re­turn to Manch­ester runs at Manch­ester­art Gallery un­til April 22, 2019


2 CAP­TUR­ING A CITY:1 Mar­tin Parr’s first pub­lished colour pho­to­graph. Manch­ester, 1971

Pho­tos: Mar­tin Parr

32 Tex­tile fac­tory, Manch­ester, early 1970s3 A biker checks out movies in a video rental shop, Sal­ford, 1986

Photo: Mar­tin Parr

2 CHANG­ING TIMES:1 June Street, Sal­ford, 1973 Photo: Mar­tin Parr & Daniel Mead­ows 2 Sal­ford, 1986 Photo: Mar­tin Parr 3 Tex­tile fac­tory, Manch­ester, 2018


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