Did you know that Martin Parr started out with black & white film, or shot it from time to time after making his name with color? I didn’t, not until I acquired a complete set of his Café Royal Books zines from the Martin Parr Foundation shop, all signed and presented in a handsome slipcover…
The zines are all second printing editions and are all the usual Café Royal size and quality. I could’ve found the set marginally cheaper direct from Café Royal, but then wouldn’t have signed copies, so… If I recall correctly, I picked these up while working on my review of Parr’s Beach Therapy, and they’re all really pretty good, if not great, examples of Parr’s exceptionalism, if not a bit uneven and (in 2020-22) a bit unfortunate in subject matter.
Chinatown 1984, first printed in 2015, is exactly what’s on the tin: photographs made in (I’m guessing) London’s Chinatown in 1984. Yates’s, 2016, collects photographs made in Yates’s Wine Lodge, a pub frequented by people of a certain generation. Abandoned Morris Minors of the West of Ireland, 2017, is just that: Morris Minors, in various states of overgrowth and/or decay. Prestwich Mental Hospital 1972, 2018, collects photographs made in the namesake hospital (and this one just wouldn’t fly in contemporary climate, I suspect, and good thing nobody noticed this one come out, I guess, if the furor over one spread in a planned reprint is any indication). And The British Seaside, 2020, is all seaside scenes, some beachy, some grassy, some cliffside, some rocky, some paved.
In all, Parr’s wit and sense of framing and “the decisive moment” are present: Barthesian Punktum and Studium abound; nearly every photograph is a prime example, more or less, each in their own way, of capital-S, capital-P Street Photography; there’s a reason Parr was voted into Magnum. I’m fortunate to have a signed set.
Overall, I rate the Martin Parr Black & White set a solid 4.5 stars.
If you’re unfamiliar with Parr, have a look at his website. He’s most known for his garish color photographs of 1980s-2000s Britain (and elsewhere), a member of Magnum, and a more or less household name, for better or worse. You could do worse than have a look at and try to learn from his sense of timing and framing and arrangement. Would that I could learn something from all the books I’ve looked at… Anyway. At time of writing (November 2022), Cafe Royal have copies in stock. The set is limited to 500 copies, so don’t sleep on it. And, interestingly, signed copies remain available in the Martin Parr Foundation shop.