Tag Archives: Postmodernism

Photography theory: A brief overview of the key stages of development


Figure 1: Hippolyte Bayard Drowning Man (1840)

In order to contextualise the forthcoming part 4 Reading Photographs I have set out a basic understanding of the main stages development in photography theory. Bate (2009:26) identifies three significant periods in time where photography theory formed an overwhelming identifiable perspective in answering the traditional theoretical questions; what is it? What does it do? What is the impact?

Victorian Aesthetics from the 1840s onwards 

From the outset it was widely recognised that the process of photography contained an inherent quality to create a copy of the real or what the Victorians referred to as the natural world, (Fox-Talbot’s first book of photographs in 1844 was entitled The Pencil of Nature).

Wells (2009) describes how European pioneers; the explorers, anthropologists, merchants, military and the growing middle-classes used photography to record, categorize and, effectively, justify their expanding global horizons and with it their growing ambition, wealth and assets.

Challenging the naturalists’ debate was the belief that photography was an emerging artistic medium and the pictorialists composed artistic impressions using the technique to create art. The first Photographic processes were officially invented in 1839 by artist Louis Jaqcues Daguerre and inventor and scientist Henry Fox-Talbot but it is perhaps Hippolyte Bayard’s photography of the Drowning Man (1840) which perfectly highlights the original theoretical debate as to whether photography was an art form or an application of science and technology.

Hippolyte Bayard’s image Drowning Man (1840) is his depiction of himself as a broken man cheated out of his rightful place in history as the inventor of photography by friends of Daguerre and as such is perhaps the first example of the art of photography, although “at the time of it’s conception in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the identity of photography was defined by a shifting mix of ideas about a world where human culture, previously regarded as dominated by nature, was seen to be increasingly in control of natural phenomena.”(Bull, S. 2009:9)

1920s and 1930s and the period of Modernism

Still and moving images in the form of photographs and films were the primary language of media and communications driving the new forces of progress and universality which were spread through the rise of the film industry, advertising and marketing, consumerism, fashion and leisure; core features of the new mass culture society created by capitalism and fuelled by industrialisation.

This new world of mass reproduction enabled photographic imagery to be distributed on an unprecedented scale leading to the next significant period of theoretical thinking around photography.

One of the most important essays of the time was perhaps Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936) previously reviewed (see here); a significant point raised by Benjamin escaped most observers for many years. Benjamin writes, “Earlier much futile thought had been devoted to the question of whether photography is art. The primary question – whether the very invention of photography has transformed the entire nature of art was not raised.” (Bate, D 2009.27)

During this period of modernism the camera was still regarded as a mechanical tool of precision but at the same time people were now becoming individuals and as such could be regarded as the creative artist who could master the camera for their own ends. The era of straight and defined photography where the camera was merely a recording device taking pictures at the click of a button had passed.


Figure 2: Robert Frank, taken from The Americans

Photography as a medium was now developing through documentary and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s significant photographic concept The Decisive Moment; The so-called Masters of Photography were unchallenged and were experiencing a golden era as they were deemed to be blessed with a natural gift which what the influential John Szarkowski, curator of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art New York termed ‘The Photographer’s Eye’.

The rise in prosperity and living standards experienced in post-war American and Europe was well documented capturing real peoples’ lives through what was still regarded as an objective lens. Many of the concerns around photography during this period centred on aesthetics and there was a growing belief that “photographic modernism isolated photographs from their surrounding context entirely. (Philips 1989)” (Bull S 2010, 11)

1960s, 1970s and the period of Post-Modernism

Post-modernism rejected the progress and universality of modernism and interrogated the modern era against a backdrop of the political and social unrest of the 1960s and 1970s such as the student riots in Paris, the second wave of feminism, the struggle for American civil rights and the protests against the Vietnam War.

Photographers and theorists interrogated the role that the medium played in creating and perpetuating the social structures which now existed and questioned photography’s social purpose.     

Marxism and Art: Beware of Fascist Feminism 1977 by Hannah Wilke 1940-1993

Figure 3: Hannah Wilke (1977) Marxism and Art: Beware of Fascist Feminism


As a result photography and art became highly became political and if modernists focussed on what lay within the frame post-modernists were very much concerned with the social issues of the world which sat outside of the frame.

Photographic imagery was undoubtedly the central feature of a popular social culture fuelled by capitalism and mass production and characterised by consumerism and materialism.

Post-modernism no longer concerned itself with the aura of authenticity, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard used the term, ‘Simulacra’: copies for which there was no original.” (Wells, L 2009.22)


Figure 4: Amalia Ulman taken from Excellences and Perfections

Summing up

“A number of contemporary critics now argue that photography has given up attempting to provide depictions of things which have an autonomous existence outside the image and we as spectators no longer possess the psychic energy needed to compare the photograph with objects, persons or events in the world external to the frame of the camera. If a simulacrum is a copy for which there is no original; it is, as it were, a copy in it’s own right.” (Wells, L 2009. 23)

Whether this is ‘post-modernism’ or ‘post post-modernism’ I’m not entirely sure right now but this certainly a precursor for further reading and reflection.

I am increasingly beginning to recognise that theory (of photography) is essential if we are to contextualise and make sense of specific thoughts and debates. Whilst 1000 words hardly does justice to 170 years of photography theory and history this research and reflection has provided an opportunity to consolidate my understanding of photography theory and position future learning and development.


Bate, D (2010) Photography: The Key Concepts London: Bloomsbury

Bull, S (2010) Photography Abingdon: Routledge

Wells, L. (2009). Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th ed.) Abingdon: Routledge

List of Images 

Figure 1: Drowned Man by Bayard, H taken from

http://photographyhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/bayard-forgotten-pionner.html (accessed 18/03/2016)

Figure 2: Robert Franks taken from The Americans, accessed 21/02/2016) from


Figure 3: Hannah Wilke (1977) Marxism and Art: Beware of Fascist Feminism

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wilke-marxism-and-art-beware-of-fascist-feminism-p79357(accessed 26/05/2016)

Figure 4: Amalia Ulman taken from Excellences and Perfections

http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/amalia-ulman/#_ (accessed 25/05/2016)


Research: Images accompanied by text and audio

Sophie Calle’s Take care of yourself

The art works to deconstruct the text, interpret and transpose it’s meaning. In one video exhibit the letter is read aloud by a professional female clown. In another there are large hung canvasses displaying the text in braille (image below) and shorthand versions seemingly acting as metaphors used to re-evaluate the significance of the letter and in turn it’s author.


Sophie Calle Taken from Take Care Of Yourself 

What follows is an extract from the interpretation made by a female criminologist and a contributor to the project:

“This email if it is authentic is apparently written by a seductive manipulator who maintains a relationship of dominance and influence over others. His is a non aggressive influence, the influence of someone adept with words, who has the capacity to pass off any negative act on his part in a manner that places himself in the position of victim obviating himself of blame and making the person he is speaking to feel guilty.” (http://artintelligence.net/review/?p=147) accessed 05/05/16

The sheer vastness of interpretations and opinions begin to take over and become an overwhelming avalanche of forensic detail and information to the viewer. This creates a powerful emotional force generated from within such a narrow formal brief and has resulted in a varied and complex body of work which can be interpreted in a number of ways and on a number of different levels but it was at it’s most simplistic Sophie Calle’s way of taking care of herself.

The work reflects postmodern approaches to narrative in that there is not a clear linear story line or plot but a complex melting pot of evidence from which the viewer can reflect upon, interpret and ultimately judge if they so wish.

Calle’s work has been labelled a simple act of revenge, she disagrees and supporting this claim is her artistic history which has consistently used human emotion and reaction as it’s subject matter. Others can interpret in whichever way we choose relative to our own histories, opinions and motivations.

It’s prompts many thoughts, emotions and questions about human action and reaction, relative control, emotions and their disruption, gender identity, behaviours and ultimately relationships. I really enjoyed trying to understand the depth of thought which underpins this art work and really enjoyed attempting it’s review.

Sophy Rickett’s Objects in the field

This work can be viewed at: https://thephotographersgalleryblog.org.uk/2014/03/19/sophy-rickett-objects-in-the-field/ (accessed 05/05/16)

The series was made during Rickett’s artistic residency at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge (IoA). Initially reworking original negatives from an obsolete scientific programme Rickett progressed the work to include a series of improved aesthetic images plus a wider range of original images plus a text essay which links together a number of passages containing memories of the artist from her childhood and early adult life plus her uneasy experiences of working closely with the original scientist.

In an interview with Sharon Boothroyd of OCA the artist concludes, “the work came to be about a kind of symbiosis on the one hand, but on the other there is a real tension, a sense of us resisting one another. The material in the middle stays the same, but its kind of contested, fought over.” It is clear that artist Sophy Rickett was extremely interested in making sure that the original scientist Dr. Wilstrop was an active participant in the process and tried to make some sense of their interaction for the completeness of her artistic work.

The patchwork structure of the essay placed together with the range of images included in the series reflects a postmodern narrative approach of creating a fluid and complex structure allowing and inviting the viewer to participate in the process of interpretation. It prompted me to think about collective knowledge and opinions, relationships and how we interact with others and how this looks from within and outside ourselves. Very interesting in it’s composition and the personal approach of the artist.

New York Times One in 8 million

A collection of mini projects which overlays black and white images of 54 New Yorkers with audio clips of the specific individuals speaking on subjects specific to their lives.

A really interesting way of showing the diversity of people in the city and further evidence of how text either visual or verbal changes the whole viewing experience and with it our perception.

This collection can be viewed by following the link:


Kaylyn Deveney The Day-to-Day Life of Alfred Hastings  


Kaylyn Deveney taken from The Day-To-Day life of Alfred Hastings

In this project the artist asks the subject to make their own captions on her images and, “thereby adding a critical second perspective to this work.” (Deveney, K)

I ‘am now beginning to realize just how powerful text can be in terms of defining the meaning of an image which is quite frightening given the amount of exposure we all now have to text accompanied images in a mass media dominated society.

Equally significant is our collective knowledge of images and (perceived) meanings and the codes and signals linking the two. This is of major significance when we begin to try to understand why we perceive things the way we do but also how many different individual interpretations are therefore possible.

Karen Knorr

Gentlemen (1981-1983) was photographed in Saint James’s clubs in London and investigated the patriarchal conservative values of Britain during the early 1980s. The images are combined with text in a critical and playful manner again demonstrating how the use of relay can really add direction and therefore impact to the meaning of an image.


Karen Knorr taken from the series Gentlemen 

Gentlemen (1981-1983) was photographed in Saint James’s clubs in London and investigated the patriarchal conservative values of Britain during the early 1980s. The images are combined with text in a critical and playful manner again demonstrating how the use of relay can really add direction and therefore greater impact to the meaning of an image.

The final piece of research is a photograph by Duane Michals entitled This Photograph is My Proof (1974)

We are asked whether the image (is) actually proof of a happy liaison or is that just what we choose to see? What do you (we) think?


Duane Michals This Photograph Is My Proof

Below the photograph above Michals writes,

This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon, when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen, she did love me. Look see for yourself! 

A literal explanation might be that the couple are now no longer happy and this is a reminder of times gone by. However it is Duane Michals’ interest in the relationship between reality and fiction which tests the believability of photography which prompts us to consider whether we can rely upon the image and text to be authentic but instead should question whether there was ever a relationship between the couple and we are in fact viewing an elaborate constructed act.

A clue lies in another Duane Michals image (below).


Duane Michals A Failed Attempt To Photograph Reality


Accompanying text certainly adds an additional layer in influencing and controlling the definition of meaning of the image. The inclusion of text seems to create the need for us to have a definite opinion and such is the role of language in our culture this seems to multiply any critical analysis.

As always the broader context including the motivation of the artist and now the perspective of the viewer contribute in developing any potential interpretation but when used correctly text can convert the purpose of the photograph into an entirely entity and into a different realm of thinking.

Reference List

An overview of Sophie Calle’s Take care of yourself can be seen at:

https://www.paulacoopergallery.com/exhibitions/sophie-calle-take-care-of-yourself/installation-views (accessed 05/05/16)

An article reviewing Sophie Calle’s Take care of yourself can be found at http://artintelligence.net/review/?p=147 (accessed 05/05/16)

Chrisafis, A. (2007) He loves me not. Guardian website 16/06/07. Can be viewed at:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/16/artnews.art (accessed 05/05/16)

An overview of Sophy Rickett’s Objects in the Field can be seen at:

https://thephotographersgalleryblog.org.uk/2014/03/19/sophy-rickett-objects-in-the-field/ (accessed 05/05/16)

New York Times one in 8 million


(Accessed 06/05/2016)


(accessed 06/05/16)

Kaylyn Deveney image taken from http://kaylynndeveney.com/bert-grid (accessed 06/05/16)

Karen Knorr’s work can be seen at:

http://karenknorr.com/photography/gentlemen/ (accessed 06/05/16)


Duane Michals A failed attempt to photograph reality can be seen at:

http://www.reframingphotography.com/content/duane-michals (accessed 07/05/16)


Postmodernism 2: The Pictures Generation

(Crimp, D (1977) Pictures. New York: Artists space. (full exhibition catalogue above)

“The work of the five emerging artists in this exhibition and that of many other young artists as well seem to be largely free of references to the convention of modernist art, and instead to turn to those of other art forms more directly concerned with representation – film and photography, most particularly – and even to the most debased of our cultural conventions – television and picture newspapers for example.” (Crimp, D. Pictures, 1977)

Douglas Crimp was one of the first writers to recognise that some artists were beginning to stray outside of a purely medium specific method of working and that this was a definite break and alternative to modernism. In 1977 Crimp curated the Pictures exhibition  at the Artists Space in New York featuring emerging artists Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, and Philip Smith who Crimp had recognised were engaged with this postmodern thinking.

For many of the “Pictures” artists a central tenet was that it is up to the viewer to complete the images by bringing their own experiences and ideas to a work. In some ways, it was an idea derived from the writings of French philosopher Roland Barthes, who theorized that individual authorship was dead, and that society’s ideas gave things their meaning. (Greenberger, A. 2014)


Richard Prince Untitled (Cowboy) 

“Richard Prince’s untitled (Cowboy) is a high point of the artist’s ongoing deconstruction of an American archetype as old as the first trailblazers and as timely as then-outgoing president Ronald Reagan. Prince’s picture is a copy (the photograph) of a copy (the advertisement) of a myth (the cowboy). Perpetually disappearing into the sunset, this lone ranger is also a convincing stand-in for the artist himself, endlessly chasing the meaning behind surfaces. Created in the fade-out of a decade devoted to materialism and illusion, Untitled (Cowboy) is, in the largest sense, a meditation on an entire culture’s continuing attraction to spectacle over lived experience.” This analysis can be viewed in full at he Metropolitan Museum of Art website at

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/2000.272/  (accessed 02/05/2016)

In addition to Richard Prince added to the original group of artists would also be Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger plus others included when in 2009 Douglas Eklund revisited the Pictures Generation in a new exhibition for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eklund famously excluded the work of one of the original artists Philip Smith attempting the ultimate death of the author. Smith for his part promptly sent a letter of complaint to Art in America magazine (see below)


(accessed 02/05/2016)
For more information on this exhibition see:


(accessed 02/05/2016)

Reference list

Bull, S (2010). Photography. Abingdon: Routledge



Greenberger, A (2014) What was the Pictures Generation? Artspace website 23/09/2014

http://www.artspace.com/magazine/art_101/art_market/pictures_generation-51922 (accessed 02/05/2016)


(accessed 02/05/2016)

http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2009/pictures-generation (accessed 02/05/2016)

Richard Prince Cowboy image can be seen at


(accessed 02/05/2016)

Postmodernism and the death of the author


Cindy Sherman

Postmodernism in the art world began in the 1960s and was initiated by the political, cultural and social changes taking place at the time and coincided with photography’s progressive acceptance as an art form and a highly relevant medium of the times.

Postmodernism questioned the authority of art collapsing the difference between high art/culture of modernism and mass/popular culture. As seen in the pop art movement artists began to experiment outside of medium specific conditions instead focussing upon their new ideas in transforming previously held modern view.

Artists began to use photography as a reference to a modern consumer society founded on the use of the photographic image as it’s ubiquitous code of language. Liz Wells (2009, p.286) comments that this was because, “photography then was still seen as inherently different (commercial, popular, documentary) from more established art forms such as painting and sculpture. This was no doubt in part because, to echo Roland Barthes, many elements within their pictures were deja-lu (already read). But this was the whole point.”

Roland Barthes’ highly influential poststructuralist essay Death of the author (1967) focussed on the written text but his viewpoint effectively questions the authority of the artist as well the author when he writes, “the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture”. Barthes argues for the liberation from the control and influence of the author’s (and critic’s) history, knowledge and interpretation on the basis that their work is the result of a cumulative and collective understanding and knowledge and not original in any case. And in order for us the reader to be born then the author must be sacrificed.

An excellent example of postmodern photography is Sherrie Levine’s 1981 landmark series After Walker Evans where Levine photographed and reproduced famous Walker Evans photographs from an exhibition catalogue. Levine’s work according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, was

“both praised and attacked as a feminist hijacking of patriarchal authority, a critique of the commodification of art, and an elegy on the death of modernism. Far from a high-concept cheap shot, Levine’s works from this series tell the story of our perpetually dashed hopes to create meaning, the inability to recapture the past, and our own lost illusions.”

(Quoted from the Metropolitan of Art website and accessed 01/05/2016)


Reference list  

Barthes, R 1967 Death of the author

http://writing.upenn.edu/~taransky/Barthes.pdf (accessed 26/04/2016)

Bull, S (2010). Photography. Abingdon: Routledge

Wells,L. (2009). Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th ed.) Abingdon: Routledge


Cindy Sherman image can be seen at:


(accessed 01/04/2016)

Luigi Ghirri (1942-1992)


Luigi Ghirri, Roma (1979)

Early colour pioneer Luigi Ghirri (1942-1992) featured in a Source article was a description of Roma (1979) outlining how Ghirri displaces Rome’s Coliseum in favour of a banal hedge and a centrally positioned fashionable looking modern man. This image inspired my purchase of the second edition print of Kodachrome (1978) and I immediately loved the muted, faded colours and the deadpan compositions of Luigi Ghirri. I also felt a resonance with our current focus on the narrative and post-modern influences.


Luigi Ghirri, Kodachrome (1978)

In Kodachrome images are presented on the pages as small picture postcards placed on large blank white spaces. I found Ghirri’s concept of space outside the frame extremely thought provoking, as he describes “the visible part of the cancellation and (how) it invites us to see the rest of the not presented reality.” (Ghirri, L. Kodachrome. 1978).

The image within is interpreted in relation to what is left obscured or outside of the frame. He describes this as the double aspect of representation and serves as a further example of how Ghirri forces the viewer to consider different ways of seeing and interpreting what is real. He did n’t believe in decisive moments as he felt that this created limitations in his quest to merely see clearly.

Luigi Ghirri uses the term Kodachrome in recognition of how the modern photograph has become a coded symbol in representation of and attempts to understand the total reality, the hieroglyphic whole. His adherence to semiotics is paramount in his use of the photograph blended with his own appreciations, “the approach, not direct as in reportage, is the result of a preferential approaching, mediate from the memory…..and that …..the elements composing the work are a large quantity of communication data and a large quantity of ambiguity.” Ghirri, L. Kodachrome (1978) (p7. introduction by Gardin, P).

The meaning of his work is ultimately to confirm, “the verification of how it is still possible to wish to face the way of knowledge, to make it possible at last to tell the real identity of man, of things, of life, from the image of man, of things, of life.” (Ghirri, L. Kodachrome, p12. (1978)

Ghirri chooses advertising cliques and man made/imposed things to pit their wits against nature and his interpretations of modern life are hidden just below the surface in his scenes of the ordinary everyday. The resultant style is similar to other early colour photographers of the post-modern 70s and 80s. Similar to Stephen Shore Ghirri mainly avoid the inclusion of people and effectively keeps the work balanced and serious, sidestepping the voyeuristic and, at times, reductive aspect of Martin Parr.

I like his simple and geometrical composition to create clean, aesthetically pleasing, subtle, intelligent frames with powerful underlying thoughts.


Luigi Ghirri, taken from Kodachrome (1978)

The mirror reflection above looks more like the view from a window and the two images of children having fun contrasts brilliantly with a utilitarian repetition. The end result is an ingenious composition, perfectly balanced calmly asking powerful questions.

I really enjoyed reviewing this photographer as his work bears many similarities to subjects and photographers that I have previously appreciated and I will continue to reflect on how Ghirri made his work.

Reference list

Ghirri, L (2013) Kodachrome, second edition, MACK

Graham, C. (2015) Emptiness Against Emptiness Source (issue 84) Winter, 2015, p50-51.


Roma by Luigi Ghirri taken from:

http://theredlist.com/wiki-2-16-601-809-view-outstanding-profile-ghirri-luigi.html (accessed 25/04/2016)

Pages from Kodachrome taken from:


(accessed 25/04/2016)

Image of blue sky by Luigi Ghirri taken from:

http://www.baudoin-lebon.com/en/expositions/presentationarchives/79/kodachrome (accessed 25/04/2016)

Image of mirror reflection by Luigi Ghirri taken from:

http://www.douglashydegallery.com/luigi-ghirri-gallery-1/ (accessed 25/04/2016)




Photography in colour: William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Martin Parr



Photograph installed as a 60-foot-long image in New York’s Grand Central Station as an advertisement for Kodak.

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.


William Eggleston

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, Uncommon Places, 1975

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.


Stephen Shore, Uncommon Places, 1974

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.


Stephen Shore, Uncommon Places, 1973

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.

Martin Parr

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.


Martin Parr, taken from The Cost of Living 

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

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.


Martin Parr taken from The Last Resort

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.

Reference List

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

http://www.moma.org/momaorg/shared/pdfs/docs/press_archives/3860/releases/MOMA_1967_Jan-June_0034_21.pdf (accessed 7/02/2016)

Images taken from

Kodak image:
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)

Shore, S images:
http://www.vincentborrelli.com/pages/books/105731/stephen-shore/uncommon-places-photographs-by-stephen-shore-limited-edition-with-vintage-original-type-c-print (accessed 2702/2016)