Acquisitions United Kingdom

Martin Parr to offer collection to nation

Magnum photographer in talks with Tate and V&A over legacy of British documentary works

LONDON. The British photographer Martin Parr is in talks to leave his collection of historic and contemporary British photos to the nation.

Parr, 57, a Magnum photographer known for his sardonic examinations of modern society, is also a collector and over the last 20 years has assembled an important survey of 700 British documentary photos and book dummies. This includes the work of around 18 practitioners, many of them collected in depth, which spans the last five decades.

“I started collecting this material because no one was doing it as seriously as I thought it should be done,” said Parr. “In Britain we marginalise photography compared with mainland Europe where its status is much higher.”

A selection of Parr’s documentary photos and photobooks is now on display at the Jeu de Paume in Paris (until 27 September) as part of an exhibition which also draws from Parr’s collections of postcards and other objects. The show travels to the Baltic in Gateshead next month.

It includes black and white works showing the English at leisure in the 1960s by Tony Ray-Jones, who Parr cites as an early influence, and images of Butlins holiday camps by John Hinde dating from 1968 to 1972.

The introduction of colour is surveyed with work by Peter Mitchell who produced the first significant show of colour photography in Britain in 1979.

The collection is particularly strong in works from the 1980s by the likes of Paul Graham, Chris Killip, and Graham Smith who chronicled the industrial landscapes and poverty-stricken cities of Thatcher’s Britain.

“MoMA in New York did a show of British photography from the Thatcher years in 1991, but in Britain the work is overlooked,” said Parr, explaining that the Jeu de Paume show was organised by a German museum, the Haus der Kunst in Munich, which also put together the exhibition tour. “The show has had a sensational response in Paris,” said Parr. According to the French gallery, 56,000 visitors have seen the exhibition in its first seven weeks.

“But in Britain, we started discussions with a gallery in London for them to host the show but their curators dismissed the idea,” he said, adding: “Most of the photographers in my collection have no dealers and nobody knows them in the art world.”

To redress the balance, Parr wants his collection to go to a national museum. “I’ve had two meetings with [Tate director] Sir Nicholas Serota and with the Victoria & Albert Museum but it’s too early to say where it will go. Whether it’s loaned or sold remains to be seen, but I’m not looking to make a profit on it.”

Although the Tate occasionally acquires photographs and the V&A funds acquisitions partly through the reproduction rights of the Cecil Beaton royal portraits archive (which amounts to between £5,000 to £8,000 a year), most of the practitioners in Parr’s collection are not represented in depth in any national museum. The exception is the National Media Museum in Bradford which owns important works such as the Tony Ray-Jones archive. But Parr believes his collection is unique. “It’s a photographer’s collection, not a curator’s. It includes works which influenced me and other photographers.” The Tate and the V&A declined to comment.

“Parrworld” is at the Baltic in Gateshead from 17 October until 10 January 2010

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15 Oct 09
13:38 CET


Try to get the book of Parr's photos called 'A Fair Day' because it is a brilliant snapshot of life in the West of Ireland twenty-plus years ago.

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