Martin Parr on Zoom with Simon Bainbridge

Yesterday evening I watched a live transmission on Facebook of the BJP’s Simon Bainbridge talking via Zoom to Martin Parr. The interview covered a range of subjects including how Parr has adapted his work to the lockdown (he takes photos while out on his daily walks and has started a new project using a telephoto lens to photograph the birds in his garden, not least as a way of shifting himself out of repeating his hallmark style of images ad infinitum), future plans for the Martin Parr Foundation (a new photo festival is scheduled to take place across a series of major venues in Bristol late next spring, possibly in May) and the images he has on display in his own home, including the huge print of Chris Killip’s Father and Son on view behind him during the interview (he has none of his own images on display and “wouldn’t trust” anyone who does display their own images).

He paid tribute to Sue Davis, who founded the Photographers Gallery in 1971 and died just three days ago. He pointed out that until the Photographers Gallery was established there was no outlet at all for art photography and the only route for a photographer to make a living after leaving one of the half dozen or so courses that existed at the time was to become an assistant to a commercial photographer and eventually become a commercial photographer themselves. It wasn’t until Tate Modern’s Cruel and Tender exhibition in 2003, he reminded us, that photography was seen in a major art gallery; and some are even today resistant to the medium. I recall visiting Cruel and Tender myself and being astonished by some of the works, especially those by Boris Mikhailov, which I’d never seen the like of before. I’d seen some gritty images before, for example in a 1980s Magnum exhibition at the Photographers Gallery, but these were something quite different.

Perhaps the most interesting question came from one of the viewers, who asked what had surprised Parr most about photography in the past 15 years. He responded that he was amazed by the amount of innovative and exciting new work coming out of the younger generations of photographers; people finding new ways of using the language of photography – something he emphasised that only a small proportion will ever achieve. He is particularly impressed, he told us, when he sees someone doing something original that is brilliant and simple and makes you think, why didn’t I think of that? Pressed to name names, he cited Stephen Gill’s The Pillar. Suddenly I understood where photographing the birds in his garden came from! It is somehow reassuring to know that even Martin Parr takes inspiration from the work of others.