Inconsistencies in the quality of film had hampered the use of colour in challenging black and white for the mantle of the format of choice for the serious photographer. This was further exacerbated when early advertising and commercial photographers began to use colour undermining the artistic credentials of colour photography.
In 1967 John Szarkowski’s ‘New Documents’ exhibition (MoMA, New York) sent out a message that photo-documentary had developed from a voice for social reform into a more personalised and subjective perspective. As part of this development certain photographers such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore began to experiment and use colour film to make images as a departure from black and white, the then traditional format of documentary and art photography. (Bull, S 2005).
Photographers and artists in America were trying to make sense of the impact of capitalism and consumerism to understand how people and places were being affected and they started to parody the colourful world of mass consumerism and major corporations.
Originally inspired by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank William Eggleston became an early pioneer of colour photography creating his images of American life in the 1960’s and 70s. Eggleston’s style of photographing the ordinary as oppose the extraordinary was a departure from the concept of ‘the decisive moment’ and inspired a generation of photographers such as Stephen Shore.
Stephen Shore hadn’t followed a particularly conventional route through University but had been resident in Andy Warhol’s factory from 1965-1969 and developed an interest in consumerism and the commercial world.
Shore embarked upon marathon road trips across America making images of what he saw and found. The early influences of Eggleston can be found in Stephen Shore’s work American Surfaces where he made photographs of the meals that he ate, the motel rooms that he stayed in, the shop windows that he gazed through and the people that he encountered. His work adopted the look and feel of the ‘snapshot’ and Shore even used a Kodak lab to produce his final images to maintain this concept. However the images were anything but snapshots as they held up a mirror to American.
His next major work was Uncommon Places which was again images taken on American road trips but this time his style had developed by using a large format camera which assisted in the process of creating fantastically composed and detailed images of the American way of life, petrol stations, cark parks, streets, shops and open roads with some people.
I find the work of Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places really interesting, the compositions are so perfect and aesthetically pleasing that viewing the image feels as if it would be a better experience that seeing the scene with my own eyes! Perfect landscape photography technique with absolute clarity and detail throughout the images.
He uses so many techniques so brilliantly, how he sees shape and builds up a perfect composition almost layer by layer. How he uses telegraph poles and cables to create frames within rules of composition echoing renaissance period paintings whilst creating his own signature. I found the work genuinely inspiring and with Susan Sontag in mind Shore’s work makes us believe that “everything exists to end up in a photograph”. (Sontag. S 1970), well a Stephen Shore photograph.
A prolific photographer of people and places from the 1970s to the present day who has had a major influence on photography through his use of vivid colour and his personal style of documentary. Parr cites Tony Ray Jones as a major influence and Jones’ work inspired Parr to record a ‘British way of life’ as Parr observed in his post Polytechnic days, which seemed to be fast disappearing.
Tony Ray Jones worked both in the UK and in America in the 1960s and 70s and as such acts as a fusion and bridge between British and American documentary photography. Parr established himself in the North of England after his studies in Manchester. Whilst born in comfortable Surrey Parr’s grandfather, a keen amateur photographer came from Yorkshire and he had gifted a teenage Parr his first Kodak camera.
Parr’s first major project was life around the declining town and surrounding villages of Hebden Bridge and in particular the non conformist chapels of the Methodist Church of which his father and grandfather had been active within and had therefore acted as a backdrop to Parr’s early life. His images were predominantly in black and white and were infused with empathy and where appropriate an intelligent humour.
As Britain in the 1980s took off so did Parr’s career and his photography, influenced by the likes of William Eggleston, Steven Shore and Joel Meyerowitz, developed into vivid colour images capturing what Parr regarded as the impact and effects of the Thatcher Government. In projects such as New Brighton and The Cost of Living, Parr depicts working and middle-classes as the country drives towards a lifestyle influenced by mass culture, capitalism, and consumerism.
Martin Parr’s style of documenting his subject matter was a major influencing factor in the development from a mainly empathetic style towards a more aggressive form where the photographer invites the viewer to join him in observing if not judging their efforts at incorporating the conventions of modern life.
Parr’s personal perspective on these factors are clear in his images as he begins to introduce humour, irony and satire which become excruciating for the subjects of his images and which are perhaps a combination of Parr’s own personality and his reflections on what people and society had become.
Martin Parr’s style has become a mainstream influence on street photography even to this day and has assisted in elevating photography to a critically acclaimed status in the UK, a country which has trailed behind other Western countries such as America in it’s respect for the medium.
Bajac, Q(2010). Parr by Parr, Quentin Bajac meets Martin Parr. London: Thames and Hudson.
Bull, S (2010). Photography. Abingdon: Routledge
Eggleston, W (1971), William Eggleston’s Guide. Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, (2007).
Shore, S (2005). American Surfaces. Reprinted in paperback, 2008. London: Phaidon
Shore, S (1982), Uncommon Places. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Szarkowski, J. (1967), ‘New Documents’ taken from exhibition press release which can be read in full at
Images taken from
http://www.howdesign.com/how-design-blog/color-inspiration-kodak-colorama/ (accessed 27/02/2016)
Eggleston, W image:
https://portlandartmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/William-Eggleston-New-Dyes-Boy.jpg (accessed 27/02/2016)
Parr, M images:
http://richflintphoto.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/profile-martin-parr.html (accessed 27/02/2016)