Exposed: the age of excess

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Martin Parr, the photographer who divides the critics, has finally found a gallery for his iconoclastic new show

Martin Parr hopes his latest exhibition will be seen as a fitting epitaph to an age of greed and excess – a monument, albeit unintended – to a time pre-credit crunch when the super-rich guzzled champagne and nonchalantly chomped cigars.

As it begins its only UK showing at Gateshead's Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art this week, Parrworld already appears to have polarised those in photographic circles – much like its controversial creator has done. Record numbers flocked to see the Englishman's typically uncompromising documentary photographs at the Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris on the final leg of its successful continental tour. But he found his plans to stage a similar event in the British capital "dismissed" by curators of at least one major London gallery, believed to be the Hayward.

So instead he opted to bring his latest creation to the North-East, where more than 100,000 are expected through the doors to see it. Parr has long divided the photographic community. Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French father of modern photojournalism, said he came "from a totally different planet" – and it wasn't a compliment. Parr scandalised the battle-hardened legends of photojournalism when he finally won his long-fought battle to join the hallowed Magnum agency by the narrowest of margins.

Critics of Parr's particular brand of social commentary have long accused him of cruelty towards his subjects. It was an easy objection to make when the people he was photographing were working class revellers on a New Brighton beach or the aspiring middle classes of Thatcher's Britain. But in his new series, Luxury, he turns his lens on a less sympathetic subject – the world's rich. Having spent five years following the new money around the playgrounds of the plutocrats in Russia, Asia and the Middle East he has created a body of work which conjures the spirit of the times. From the Botoxed faces of ageing ladies in the polo crowd at Dubai or the oligarch wannabes of the Millionaire Fair in Moscow, Parr admits that he had no idea they would so quickly become relics of a lost age.

Speaking yesterday, he said: "When I started this there was no hint of the economic crash. I was photographing the very wealthy in the same spirit that people might photograph poverty. Then the crisis came along and the way you view these things changes. I now look at it as an epitaph of this particular period. Wealthy people have not disappeared, they are just not so willing to show off their wealth."

Harder to swallow will be his pictures from the Gosforth Races, showing ordinary local people dolled up for a day out, puffing on cigarettes and downing bottles of cheap rosé as they cheer on the runners in the Northumberland Plate.

Parr, 56, concedes that not all his subjects are happy with his images. One woman from Dubai complained to the gallery there when it was shown. But these people are in the minority he insists. "There is an element of mischief. I am not doing propaganda pictures on behalf of people. I photograph people as I find them. But people have issues about how they look." Of more concern, following his failed negotiations with the London gallery perhaps, is the condescension still shown in Britain towards photography as an art form, he said. His biggest audiences are overseas.

"We don't much love photography here because it is still regarded as a low art form," he said. "The status is very low. Only last month the Tate appointed its first photography curator – and that is the high cathedral of art in the UK."

The larger part of Parrworld consists of the artist's vast personal collection of photographs. He is currently in talks with both the Tate and the V&A to provide a permanent home for them. They include an array of work by British and international photographers, among them Chris Killip's classic studies of Tyneside in the 1980s and David Goldblatt's images of apartheid era South Africa.

Then there is the extraordinary ephemera – the "shadow of human foible" as he puts it – that he has gathered over recent years, much of it from eBay: Barrack Obama statuettes, Saddam Hussein wristwatches and Margaret Thatcher Toby jugs, not to mention the commemorative miners' strike plates and Taliban tea towels.

Parrworld: Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, 16 October 2009 – 17 January 2010

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn