Wednesday, February 21, 2018


 While I was in England I went to visit photographer Marin Parr at his newly established Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol.  I wanted to pick his brains for a book I may (or possibly may not) be writing about obsession.

We did talk briefly about photographing food and the current obsession (or is it already fading?) that people have with taking and then sharing snapshots of their breakfasts and lunches, which I find fascinating though I know some people get annoyed by it.  I don’t think Parr was exactly responsible for this but I do think he was way ahead of the game.

His early work investigated England and Englishness, a subject that’s pretty much synonymous with investigating social class; and food is a better class indicator than most.  The earliest Parr food photographs I’ve seen come from a 1975 series titled Prizewinners, images of award-winning vegetables or baked goods, from local village fairs and fetes.  This one is of jam tarts:

A selection of his later food photographs, a fairly small selection given how many he must have taken, appears in the book Real Food. There's an introduction by the blessed Fergus Henderson.

It’s food from all around the world, and much of it has a melancholy garishness that Parr specializes in.  Also available in a French edition:

Sometimes it’s possible to match the food with the country it it comes from, though other times it would be just about impossible without the captions.  Would you really think this was a picture of food in Mumbai?

Parr and I were in the back of the Foundation building, in a sort of kitchen area, and we sat down and he made me a cup of tea, which was very decent of him, and we talked about photography as the means of pursuing obsessions but also as an obsession in itself, and I tried to get the conversation round to the question of whether photographers are obsessed with the subjects they photograph or with the process of taking photographs. This seems particularly relevant in relation to food.  Anyway, you’ll have to wait for my book in order to read Parr’s views – don’t hold your breath.

The conversation went well enough, and afterwards I asked if it was OK to take a few snaps in the back area of the Foundation and he said of course.  If I understand him correctly, he believes everybody should have the right to photograph pretty much everything.  

There was some Russian space dog memorabilia (above). And there on the kitchen table was a bowl of fruit, along with some scattered rough prints that Parr and his assistant were in the process of editing, and I took a picture of the table and especially of the fruit.  And I don’t want to sound too self-congratulatory about it, but I gotta say, to my eyes anyway, it does look just a little bit “Martin Parr.” 

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