YOU DON'T learn much about Tony Parker from his dust-jackets - only that he was born in Manchester in 1923, now lives in Suffolk, and has published many books. This self-effacement is more than English shyness; it's also the secret of Parker's art. He has a gift, shared with certain photographers, of winning his subjects' trust to the point where they almost cease to notice his presence. He fades into the background so that his interviewees will step forward into the light. Such negative capability might suggest a man who lacks a strong personality - a good listener, without opinions of his own. But Tony Parker, as anyone who has had occasion to argue with him will know, is a man of fiercely held convictions. A middle-class boy who lost his mother when he was four, he was by 18 a conscientious objector, and had to appear before a tribunal to defend his pacifist views. Exempted from military service, he worked in a pit - an experience that has made him a lifelong socialist, and which taught him respect for the views and experience of ordinary working people.
A belief in others' ability to articulate their ideas and feelings is audible throughout all his books of interviews - with soldiers, prisoners and lighthouse-keepers; with Muscovites, the inhabitants of a small Kansas town, or the residents of a south London housing estate. In life he has campaigned for various causes: for better treatment of prisoners, for CND, and on Green issues.
In his books, he allows people to stick up for themslves. His greatest skill is, perhaps, simply patience - giving people the time they need to unburden themselves, and giving himself the time to transcribe and edit the 12- or 15-hour tapes which result.