Martin Parr: Return to Manchester

2nd January 2019…

‘Martin Parr shows how the lives of Mancunians have changed but also reveals how there is continuity in how we live our lives.’

(Header shot  above: Ashton-Under-Lyne, Yates Wine Lodges, 1983)

Manchester Art Gallery is currently hosting an exhibition of photographer Martin Parr’s work. The collection offers a wry, observational social commentary on the city and its characters. Parr has a knack of capturing the ordinary in an extraordinary way; each shot suggesting a story to be told.

Manchester, Moss Side, 1970

Parr studied photography in Manchester in the early 70s but was hooked in much earlier whilst accompanying his amateur photographer grandfather, learning how to use a camera and helping to develop and print the shots at home. His pictures are honest and far from glamorous at times, but reflect an affection and respect for his surroundings and a place that has clearly had a significant impact on his life. His earlier black and white photos carry an air of nostalgia, some proudly posed, others caught in a moment. The picture below is from a set taken with the residents of June Street in 1973 in collaboration with Daniel Meadows. The pair set about finding the ‘real Coronation Street’ and gained agreement from the families living there to take portrait shots in their front rooms. It’s fascinating to see the variety of furnishings and ornaments on display and obvious to see the subjects’ pride in their homes; moments that wouldn’t have been available for much longer as the street was scheduled for demolition at the time.

Salford, Greater Manchester, ‘June Street’ in collaboration with Daniel Meadows, 1973

A variety of other early projects included in the exhibition document patients at the Prestwich Mental Hospital, ‘Love Cubes’ (in which Parr photographed couples separately and you can play the game of trying to match them up before seeing the shots of them together) a photo set depicting some of the regulars at Yates Wine Lodges and another portraying bad weather, where his use of flash brings a clever contrast to the dark and wet surroundings.

The introduction of bold colours into his work documents the changing environment around him up until the present day. The birthday party shown below is celebratory in its focus and brightness. The tattooed barber underneath gives a nod to traditional cut-throat shaving in modern surroundings, slightly threatening at first glance but with the subject actually using the most delicate of methods. Both shots draw the eye with their vibrancy and careful composition.

Manchester, Levenshulme, Royal Nawaab, 21st Birthday Party, 2018

While some photography exhibitions only show a small number of pieces, there are hundreds of photos here spanning Parr’s career and filling the entirety of the second floor. Some of the later colour shots will remain as part of the gallery’s permanent collection but you would be wise not to miss out on the ones that won’t. This is a captivating stroll through the decades with one of the UK’s finest photojournalists and well worth setting aside some time for.

Manchester, Barton Arcade, Barber Barber, 2018

Martin Parr: Return To Manchester runs until 22nd April 2019 – free entry

Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL
Opening times: Monday 11-5, Tuesday – Sunday 10-5, first Wednesday of every month open until 9 – please check the website for further details of this and other exhibitions before visiting

All images are reproduced with permission and are © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Gallery apart from ‘June Street’ which is by Martin Parr and Daniel Meadows

Words by Siobhan