Martin Parr’s “The Non-Conformists” published by Aperture

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Silver Jubilee street party, Elland

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.

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Hebden Bridge Picture House

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Two local policemen taking breakfast, Colden Row Farm, Heptonstall


Old Town fete

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Travelling hairdresser, Heptonstall

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Silver Jubilee street party, Todmorden

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Halifax Town football ground

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Crimsworth Dean Methodist Chapel

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Sarah Hannah Greenwood and Charlie Greenwood, Crimsworth Dean Methodist Chapel


Sabastio Salgado at Sundaram Tagore Gallery

One of the first photo books I ever got was Salgado’s “Workers” about 20 years ago. It has remained one of my all time favourites. So seeing the large gallery prints of those images is an absolute revelation. The scale is even more heroic and sorrowful than in the publication. There is an added dimension in these large prints that is missing from the book and that is the level of abstraction in the images which can only be fully appreciated when presented in a gallery setting.


Two Recent Photo Exhibits in Hong Kong

The trend of increasingly high quality photo exhibitions in Hong Kong continues with these two new shows. The first set of photos are from Vincent Yu’s Hiroshima vs Japan 311 (Soliloquize) at Jockey Club Creative Arts Center. It’s a touching tribute to the twin nuclear atrocities of WWII and more recently the 311 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Departing from his usual photo journalist practice of using a Canon 5D MKIII, all the photos here were taken with the Hipstamatic app on an iPhone. According to Vincent his carefully composed images were actually taken very rapidly. Also unique to this exhibition is the handmade spot lighting which was completed in the early morning hours on opening day. Whereas the photos from Hiroshima are shown as prints the 311 photos are shown in video slide show format. The pace of the slide show is brisk mimicking Vincent’s working method.

The second exhibit is Daido Moriyama’s Searching Journeys show at Simon Lee Gallery. In contrast to Japan 311, Searching Journeys is in a big ambient light filled space. Most of the works on display are large prints from black and white film negatives arranged into two massive walls. These photos show normal everyday life in Japan free from any reference to war or disasters. It’s Daido street photography at it’s best. There are a few rare colour photographs also shown but they are dwarfed by the much larger and more well known B&Ws. Being in the gallery surrounded by these large prints is like being inside Daido’s recent photobook Labyrinth. Here you have the luxury of walking right up close to the print and staring at the photo grain if that is your kind of thing.