Martin Parr and me

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we turned up to hear Martin Parr speak at the BIPP meeting.

Ok, I’m lying. I had an idea. Martin Parr would be witty, achingly British and a bit random  just like his photos. The BIPP would be an insular clique of self-important wedding photographers, and we’d spend an uncomfortable half hour while the members sized us up and dismissed us as amateurs.

I wish I could tell you I was wrong about the BIPP – who were instructed to wear badges so they could recognise each other. I’m sure I’m doing a disservice to 90% of them, but the 10% clustered around us talked loudly about recent weddings they’d shot while eyeing us with distaste. In France where modern photography was invented the word amateur has a completely different meaning: someone who loves the activity they are describing. People use the word with pride. No one sneers.

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And I’m kind of glad to say that I wasn’t wrong about Martin Parr either. His talk was informative, amusing and challenging. He accompanied it with a presentation in which the slides sometimes shot forwards a couple of frames at a time, adding that randomness which is all part of the Parr experience.

He showed us his first exhibition, with his early work juxtapositioned against a backdrop of a living room, complete with floral wallpaper and a flying duck as centrepiece.

We saw his wedding shots, of Princess Anne’s wedding as it appeared on television in a living room. He showed us photos from one of his early books, and pointed out one member of the audience who had appeared in that book. (Anyone who can prove was in one of his shots gets a free print. Sadly, I’m not one of them).

He talked about his influences, from Tony Hancock to John Hinde, his work in fashion shoots and advertising, including Paul Smith and Cabury’s. He mentioned Magnum in passing once or twice.

But perhaps the most interesting was his approach to candid photography. He almost never asks for permission, except in France where the right to privacy is enshrined in law. This is a bad thing, he said. I have rights as a photographer, he told us. He urged everyone in the audience to get out and exercise that right as much as they can. And that’s where it falls down for me.

Honestly, if Martin Parr wanted to take my picture, I’d probably be flattered. But there are too many wanabee Parr’s who think it’s their right to get out and shoot whoever they like and portray them in whatever light they choose. Martin Parr talked about the use of humour, and I’m certain he knows the difference between poking fun and ridicule. Poking fun includes an element of the self – the lens is in some way turned on the photographer as much as the subject. But that’s an art – the safe option is to go for ridicule.

I didn’t tell Martin any of this. I’m not sure my opinion would have held much sway with the ranks of the BIPP. I’m just an amateur, someone who takes photos for love, not money.

But I do have a solution. There are so many photographers out and about these days, and whenever I catch one in the act of ridicule, I’m going to turn my camera on them. But rest assured, I’ll only be poking fun.

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7 comments

  1. I get riled by the pros’ snobbery towards amateurs and enthusiasts. I’ve seen it on Flickr which is essentially a photo sharing site for amateurs anyway. Who do they think they are?

    • I know exactly what you mean Justin. And ‘flickr celebs’ and wanabee ‘flickr celebs’ (who are possibly the worst of all).

      But I know there are some talented professional photographers who are happy to mingle with us enthusiasts.

      Enthusiast – that’s a lovely word and something those ego-heads I came across last night seemed to have in short supply.

  2. That is one of the things I regret not doing while being in England, going to one of his talks. Mind you, I never knew he held talks, till after I left the country. A pity the Bipps were a Bit Insecure Poor Photographers.

  3. My own experiences are more like your later comment.

    As an amateur, when I’ve met professional photographers they have generally been open and sharing. I’ve learned things from the occasional chit chats and even the little ways that they shown me things and I’ve thought ‘Oh thats a good idea’. I suppose I’m meeting them individually rather than in a large cluster so perhaps the group dynamics change.

    I suspect that there would be some ‘talking shop’ and ‘latest gear’ discussion like there are in so many sectors when everyone gets together.

    And two other points:

    a) I really like the idea to spend some time doing proper street mono snapping as an experiment
    b) I love the Vlad shot, “being at one with the camera” although I thought the camera was still poorly?

  4. “There are so many photographers out and about these days, and whenever I catch one in the act of ridicule, I’m going to turn my camera on them” – I do remember seeing a few pix of me, shot by you… Hmmmm… 🙂

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