23
Mar
12

Review: ‘Martin Parr: In Focus’ at Niagara Galleries, Richmond, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th March – 31st March 2012

.

This is a fine exhibition of the work of celebrated English photographer Martin Parr at Niagara Galleries, Richmond, albeit with one proviso. The mainly large colour prints are handsomely displayed in plain white frames within the gallery space and are taken from his well known series: Last Resort, Luxury, New British and British Food. Parr’s work is at its best when he concentrates on the volume of space within the image plane and the details that emerge from such a concentrated visualisation – whether it be the tension points within the image, assemblage of colour, incongruity of dress, messiness of childhood or philistine nature of luxury.

The best photographs have a wonderful frisson about them, a genuine love of and resonance with the things he is imaging. This frisson can be seen in all of the photographs in this posting but most notably in :

  • The incursion of the surreal red colour to left in England. New Brighton (top, below) and Parr’s masterful use of vertical and horizontal lines within the image. Note the verticality: of the child’s toy, the two children themselves, the pillars of the pavilion and the lighthouse holding the whole image together at right. If this lighthouse were not there the eye would fall out of the image. As it is it is contained, forcing the viewer to look closely at the absurdity of the melting ice cream and the splashes that have fallen on the ground.
    .
  • The complexity of the photograph England. New Brighton (second from top, below) where the eye does not know what to rest upon, constantly jumping from object to object. Do you look at the women on the ground, the shoes to right, the piece of fabric to left, the screaming baby, the sunlit pink umbrella, the women in blue bikini up the ramp, the long elongated shadowed wall with peek-a-boo heads leading to the outlined figures at the vanishing point of image – the top of the ramp. The understanding of light (with the use of flash) and the construction of the image is superlative. Wow!
    .
  • The incongruity evidenced in the photograph England, Ascot. 2003: the over tight pink sateen dress with unfortunate stain (which the eye is irrevocably drawn to), applique bow linked through to hideous flower embossed handbag which then contrasts with the seated women behind in hat and purple floral dress. In the large print in the gallery the background is more out of focus than in the small reproduction here, allowing the viewer’s eye an avenue of escape via the grass and deck chair beyond.
    .
  • The delicious, choreographed mise-en-scène of Australia, The Melbourne Cup. 2008 – the suits, ties and glasses, the teezed hair, the alcohol – where none of the participants is looking at the camera, where only the ladies hand clutches at the back of the man’s shoulder. They look down, they look left, they look right, they look away, they never engage with each other or the viewer. The critical space in this assemblage is the distance between the man and the woman’s noses, that vitally small space of separation that is a synonym for the interactions occurring in the rest of the image. The blindness of Lux’ry, its crassness, its stain.

.
And so it goes. The dirt under the fingernails of the child eating a doughnut, the lurid colours of the popsicle and jacket of the kid with dribble on his face, all fantastic. There are moments of stasis, for example in the contemplative photograph Australia. South Hedland. Blackrock Tourist Park. 2011 (below) taken from Parr’s new series Australia, where Parr has photographed Australian life in three Western Australian port cities, Fremantle, Broome and Port Hedland. See the video at the bottom of the posting and listen to Parr talk about his work.

This is all fine and dandy, dressed up in polka dots and a lurid bow tie, but when the photographs become too reductive, as in the large photograph in the exhibition England. Dorset. West Bay. 1997 (see first column, fourth down) there is really not enough to hang your hat on. This feeling of over simplification, as though the photographer has said to himself “here’s something I have seen that you haven’t recognised, and I think it is important for you to recognise it” – the perceived essentialness of the object – can become a bit strained. I know that these type of images are part of the series about British or Scottish food or about objects from a specific place but do they really have this grand an importance in the scheme of things? This feeling is reinforced in the exhibition, and this is my proviso to show, when the images such as Scotland. Glasgow. Fairy cakes. 1999England. Blackpool. 1995 (bread and butter on a plate on red check cloth) are presented at A4 size surrounded by heavy white frames. These photographs have to be large to have any chance of working at all and at the small size they fall flat.

The size of a photograph raises interesting questions about the display of contemporary photography. The giant light boxes of Jeff Wall, the huge group portraits of Thomas Struth, the huge portraits of Thomas Ruff, the huge environments of Candida Hofer and the huge panoramas of Andreas Gursky (to name but a few) are all points in case. Would they work at a smaller size? No. They rely on scale and detail, visual impact for their effect: the same with Martin Parr. What is really ‘In Focus’ is the visualisation of the artist, his ability to envisage the final print at this large size. The A4 prints in this exhibition simply do not work at that size, for these photographs.

Think of Ansel Adams’ famous Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, Calif., (circa 1926). Originally printed as a contact 8″ x 10″ from the negative, Adams gradually increased the size of this image till it became a huge print as tall as a man in his later life. The image works at multiple sizes, it spoke to him (and the viewer) at all these sizes: the small contact is intense and gem-like, the larger imitating the monolithic structure of the Face itself. I feel that some large contemporary photographs are quite vacuous at this large size, that there is no reason for them to be at this size. In other words it is not appropriate for the image. Conversely it would seem that artists previsualise for this size in the end print, which is fine, but that the print cannot exist, cannot breathe in the world at a smaller size. Is this a problem? Does this matter? I believe it does, especially when a photograph is displayed at a size that simply doesn’t work. I was always taught to print a photograph at an appropriate size for the image, whatever size(s) that may be (and there can be multiples), as long as it has resonance for that particular image.

.

.

Francesca Woodman installation photograph at The Guggenheim Museum, New York. Note the small, vintage prints on the far wall.

.

As evidenced in this exhibition, if the photograph cannot “work” at the size that it is to be exhibited then it should not be displayed at all – it is a diminution not just of the artists vision but of the resonance of the photograph, in this case going from large to small. In an upcoming posting about the retrospective of the work of American photographer Fransceca Woodman, there is an installation photograph of the exhibition at The Guggenheim, New York (see above). Her vintage prints (seen in the background) – small, intense visions – have been printed at a huge scale (with her permission) and they simply do not work at this floor to ceiling height. They have lost all of their intimacy, which is one of the strengths of her photography. Again, I believe it is a diminution of the artists vision and the integrity of the photograph, this time from small to large. Artists are not always right. The same can be said of the retrospective of Cartier-Bresson that I saw at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh in 2005. One room out of four had very small, intense vintage prints in brown hues and the other three galleries had large 20″ x 24″ grainy prints with strong contrast that really ruined any response I had to the work as evidenced by the vintage prints. They were almost reproductions, a simulacra of the real thing. I had a feeling that they weren’t even by the artist himself. The same could be said here.

To conclude I would say this is a fine exhibition of large photographs by Martin Parr that would have been even more focused without the small A4 prints. They are joyous paeans to the quirky, incongruous worlds in which we live and circulate. They evidence life itself in all its orthogonal absurdity. I love ’em!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.

Many thankx to the artist and Niagara Galleries for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

.

.

.

Martin Parr
England. New Brighton.
From the series Last Resort
1983 – 1985
Pigment print
Edition of 5
102 x 127 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

.

.

Martin Parr
England. New Brighton.
From the series Last Resort
1983 – 1985
Pigment print
Edition of 5
102 x 127 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

.

.

Martin Parr
Australia. South Hedland. Blackrock Tourist Park. 2011.
From the series Australia
2011
Pigment print
Edition of 5
101.6 x 152.4 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

.

.

Martin Parr
England, Ascot. 2003.
From the series Luxury
1995 – 2009
Traditional C-type print
Edition of 5
101.6 x 152.4 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

.

.

Martin Parr
Australia, The Melbourne Cup. 2008.
From the series Luxury
1995 – 2009
Pigment print
Edition of 5
101.6 x 152.4 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

.

.

Martin Parr
England. Ramsgate. 1996.
From the series New British
1994 – 1996
Traditional C-type print
Edition of 5
105.5 x 157.5 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

.

.

Martin Parr
England. Bristol. Car boot sale. 1995.
From the series British Food
1994 – 1995
Traditional C-type print
Edition of 33
18 x 25.5 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

.

.

No Worries: Martin Parr – FotoFreo 2012

Magnum photographer Martin Parr was asked by FotoFreo Festival Director Bob Hewitt to photograph three Western Australian port cities, Fremantle, Broome and Port Hedland. Photographer David Dare Parker was assigned to document the project, the work titled No Worries.

© David Dare Parker

.

.

Niagara Galleries
245 Punt Road
Richmond, Melbourne
Victoria, 3121
Australia
T: +61 3 9429 3666

Opening hours:
Tues – Sat 11am – 6pm

Niagara Galleries website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top



Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

Join 2,180 other followers

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Lastest tweets

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

March 2012
M T W T F S S
« Feb   Apr »
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Archives

Categories


%d bloggers like this: