“It is estimated that more photographic images have been taken in the past twelve months than in the entire history of photography.” – Hannah Redler, Head of Media Space at the Science Museum.
His new exhibition ‘Only in England’ displays his own early work from the 1970’s, ‘The Non Conformists’ alongside many of Ray-Jones photographs, some never before seen, picked by Parr himself to be displayed. This exhibition gives great insight into what life was really like in an arguably bleak England for many in the 1960’s and 70’s and projects a desire to document what both Ray Jones and Parr saw as disappearing way of life in England. Both photographers are cleverly able to make ordinary and somewhat bleak situations interesting and surprisingly funny in their photographs. Though Ray Jones’ fears about increasing Americanisation in England remains valid today, at least we Brits can proudly say that we still firmly believe that the weather will remain awful for the majority of the year, our humour is still wry, dry and sarcastic but most importantly we still have the faith that tea really will solve everything!
While studying at Manchester Polytechnic, were you independently exploring the work of many different photographers? How did you initially respond to Tony Ray Jones’s work?
Back in those days they didn’t show you much to work from and we were learning purely by default. These were the 1970s; it was a different era and we didn’t really have formal studies, it was more practical based. Tony Ray Jones’ work struck a chord and I immediately liked it and got excited by it. [He mentions Ray Jones’ time in America, his street art and how this was a first for British photography]
Your photographs in the exhibition differ from your recognizably bright, saturated, coloured photographs. Have you considered going back to photographing in black and white?
Once I’d moved to colour I never went back! Back in those days black and white is all we had. If you were a serious photographer you were obliged to photograph in it because colour was the reign of snapshot photography and commercial photography.
Documenting British eccentricities and a disappearing way of life in England is an evident theme of the exhibition. Which of the following English social customs would you be disappointed to lose: thinking and hoping that tea will fix everything; Conversations about weather; sarcasm/wry humour; queuing.
[He laughs] Most of what you’re saying there is less to do with what I photograph and more to do with what I really like. I wouldn’t want to lose any of them!
We are living in a time when anyone is able to label themselves as an amateur photographer, instagram becoming incredibly popular; what sort of photography really grabs your attention now?
I am more excited by new photographers, the ones who are emerging and doing different, interesting and exciting new things.
Martin, honestly, have you ever taken a “selfie”?
Generally, no I don’t.
Article by Zara Jasmine