OCA study visit: Martin Parr


On Saturday 12th March, I joined the OCA study visit to see Martin Parr’s latest exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield.

The exhibition, entitled The Rhubarb Triangle and other stories, is Parr’s largest exhibition in over ten years, with more than 300 photographs. The “other stories” are (in chronological order): The Non-Conformists, 1975-80; The Last Resort, 1983-85; The Cost of Living, 1989; Autoportrait, 1991-2012 and Common Sense, 1995-99 (The Hepworth Wakefield, 2016). Each of these series touches on the concepts of leisure, consumption and communication, which Parr has been researching, worldwide, for several decades (Magnum Photos, 2014).

I arrived at the exhibition with some, limited, knowledge of Martin Parr’s work. Back in my Art of Photography days (my first course with the OCA), my tutor referenced Parr’s book, Common Sense, in relation to some of my tightly cropped colour shots of an amusement arcade. And then last year, I visited Magnum’s Open for business exhibition, which included a documentary series by Martin Parr. Consequently, I found the exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield to be particularly interesting because it showed me some things that I was familiar with, whilst also revealing the true range and scope of Parr’s work.

The Rhubarb Triangle series, was comparable with the Open for business series, in terms of Parr’s approach, which was something of a classic documentary style. Personally, I thought that the Rhubarb Triangle photographs, were really interesting, in that they educated me about a topic I had no prior interest in. The colours in the indoor, rhubarb-picking, photographs were really striking, and I loved the sense of movement that Parr was able to capture. Interestingly, they made me reflect on my own photography, because if I had taken some of those images, I would likely have deleted them for being too blurred. I suspect the difference is that Parr (I assume) used this kind of blur intentionally, whilst mine would probably have been quite accidental. That said, when researching the exhibition, I came across this quote from an interview with Martin Parr: “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” (Sooke, 2016). For me, this reinforces an idea that I have been thinking recently, which is that I need to move away from the concept that photography is all about creating a technically perfect image.

With regards to the other series in the exhibition, I particularly enjoyed Common Sense and The Non-Conformists. The first because it is quintessentially Parr and so very striking. The second because it was far more subtle; Parr in muted black-and-white. I suppose these were the two extremes of the work on display. What was most interesting though, was that regardless of the style of presentation, Parr’s acute sense of observation and humour shone through. This made me consider the OCA’s idea of a “personal voice”, something that I need to think a lot more about now that I have started level two.


Magnum Photos (2014) Martin Parr [online]. Available at: http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_9_VForm&ERID=24KL5357TF. Accessed on: 18/03/2016.

Sooke, A. (2016) Martin Parr: ‘If I knew how to take a great photo, I’d stop’ [online]. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/photography/what-to-see/martin-parr-if-i-knew-how-to-take-a-great-photo-id-stop/. Accessed on: 18/03/2016.

The Hepworth Wakefield. (2016) The Rhubarb Triangle and other stories: photographs by Martin Parr [online]. Available at: http://www.hepworthwakefield.org/martin-parr/. Accessed on: 18/03/2016.