“Die Mauer ist weg!” which translate to “The Wall is gone!” is as much an autobiographical work as it is a document of a significant world event. The photos contained in the book are from an assignment that saved Power’s photographic career. The self proclaimed social documentary photographer was struggling for five years to get enough work to pay off his credit card debts. Fortuitously a friend named Nigel gave him 200 Pounds to have “one last go” and the photos in the book are the result of that effort. The photos taken from the trip were sold to newspapers and made enough money for Power to pay off his debts and relaunch his career. More importantly, it helped him to find his voice as an artist photographer.
As more newspaper photographers showed up at the event, Power felt compelled to seek out the behind the scenes images. Through these images taken at the fringes we see a much greater context for the events that were taking place. By looking at the sequence of images I get the sense that the blind rush towards The West resulted in the abandonment of values which Power ask us to re-examine. He does not make it explicit what these values are, but my guess is that they are probably not related to commerce.
In terms of format, the book design pays tribute to the newspapers that helped fund Mark Power in those early days of his career. The design of the front cover of the photo book is an imprint of one of the newspapers published at that time in Berlin. (The front page of that particular paper can be seen in the second photo below.) The binding of the pages is exposed with only the last page attached to the back of the book. The sequence of photos progress from documentary to one that more resembles Power’s current signature style.
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I bought this book a year ago when I went to “Only In England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr” at the Science Museum. I must admit that I got it more as a souvenir of the show. That is until I spent time reading it cover to cover I realised what a real gem it is. (I had my copy dedicated and autographed by Parr when he came to Hong Kong for his “Hong Kong Parr” show.)
The book is in many ways an autobiographical work of Martin and Susan Parr – but more so Martin. The title of the book refers to the Methodist and Baptist chapels in a specific area of Yorkshire. George Parr (Martin’s paternal grandfather) was a Methodist lay preacher and also from the Yorkshire region. Martin would attend chapel with his grandparents every Sunday: “For us, there was something about the Non-Conformist ethos that resonated with the West Yorkshire outlook: hard-working, frugal, temperate, disciplined, self-reliant, fond of tea and cake.”
Throughout the book’s text and photos you get a sense that the Parrs became an integral part of their subject matter: “Although we didn’t realise it at the time, Stanley Greenwood took our interest in the community and chapel as a sign that we might be the ones who could keep the chapel going in the future. This was partly our fault because we had become too involved in the very thing we were trying to document.” Vicariously the reader becomes a neighbour and fellow chapel goer with the subjects portrayed in the book.
To a larger degree than other phonebooks this level of closeness is achieved symbiotically through the text and photos. As cliche as it sounds Susan Parr’s writings breath life into Martin Parr’s photos:
Between films, Lloyd entertains the audience with short, crackly recordings of Glenn Miller or Bing Crosby, played on 78 rpm discs. Downstairs, in the foyer, a lonely policeman comes in for a cup of coffee and a chat with Mary.
When you get to the chapter “Calderdale” – which is absent of text – you sense what a powerful effect the text has on the photos. Every photo becomes part of a narrative more than a single image. They become film stills with a life before and after the shutter was pressed. You feel more empathy for the characters and begin wondering about the circumstances of their lives.