In Summary
  • In his pictures, sagging flesh is mercilessly exposed, food shovelled into mouths, luxury flaunted, often with unflattering results that serve as a critique of modern consumer culture.
  • The late French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson said he appeared to come "from a totally different planet", in a comment not intended as a compliment.

British documentary photographer Martin Parr doesn't see it as his job to collude with other people's view of themselves.

It's a stance that has left him open to charges of cruelty toward his subjects.

Whether it be the rich at play or the poor in humdrum scenes of everyday life, Parr's unvarnished, warts-and-all version of reality divides the photographic world.

In his pictures, sagging flesh is mercilessly exposed, food shovelled into mouths, luxury flaunted, often with unflattering results that serve as a critique of modern consumer culture.

If people don't like it, Parr has said, it is often because they have not come to terms with the way they look or the underlying issues raised by the images.

British photo editor and writer Colin Jacobson once debated in print whether Parr should be hailed for his innovation or condemned as a "gratuitously cruel social critic who has made large amounts of money by sneering at the foibles and pretensions of other people".

The late French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson said he appeared to come "from a totally different planet", in a comment not intended as a compliment.

Parr responded: "I always cherish this remark, and wrote back, 'I know what you mean, but why shoot the messenger?'".

The 61-year-old, who declined to be photographed for this interview citing time pressure, defends himself by saying he welcomes all criticism and that the cornerstone of everything he does is "integrity".

Instead, he prefers to see his pictures not as cruel or satirical, but as "British irony" or containing a "sense of mischief".

He attributes much of the controversy surrounding his images to them not being what he calls "propaganda".

"That (propaganda) is the role of most photography we see in the world," he told AFP in an interview in Paris.

'PEOPLE QUESTION IT'

"That's why if you do something different like what I'm trying to do, people question it, it's other things we should be questioning.

"I'm not saying I'm telling the truth (in my pictures), obviously it's very subjective, at least it's my own little version (of the truth)."

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