Paris’ Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) with a salute to British photographer Martin Parr gave him carte blanche to photograph Paris. For two years he pictured la vie parisienne with his trade mark style from tourists on the Champs Elysee to Bastille Day to Paris Plage to a day in the life of the Goutte d’Or neighborhood.
While in the ’80s most serious documentary photographers were using black and white film Parr pushed the limits of the medium with exaggerated color pictures often portraying banal subjects. His pioneering series – “Last Resort” (1986), “The Cost of Living” (1989) and “Small World” (1994) – now rank as a major turning point for contemporary photography. Parr gained his reputation through his ironic look at British middle and working class consumer society.
One of Parr’s most controversial series “The Last Resort,” which unflatteringly captures the British working class while on holiday at Brighton Beach, shocked many fans of B&W while others heralded it as the dawn of a new era in social documentary photography. The beach scenes shot with medium-format color film show overweight, sunburned people surrounded by screaming children on cluttered beaches eating repulsive looking food, and wearing laughable fashions…
The laughable part is what grates some people. Is Parr laughing with, or at his subjects? When asked if he thought his work was exploitive, he said: “I think that all photography involving people has an element of exploitation… However, it would be a very sad world if photographers were not allowed to photograph in public places. I often think of what I photograph as a soap opera where I am waiting for the right cast to fall into place. In more recent years, I have photographed much closer where bits of people and food become part of the big picture, and one advantage of this is that it means people are less recognizable.” This point of being less recognizable is very important for photographing in France , which now has some of the most strict “doit à l’image” laws making street photography difficult to do. But Parr manages to pull it off capturing a Paris far from the one immortalized by those black and white photographers of yore
Martin Parr, Paris to May 24, 2014, Maison Européenne de la photographie, 5-7 rue de Fourcy, 4e, Mº St-Paul,