Professor David Mellor: Parr is a really good artist

Martin Parr found a way of updating candid photojournalist realism in the 1970s and perhaps his greatest achievement was when he moved into a world of colour. It was like the moment when Bob Dylan went electric. Thank God he did it. Before that, people were led to believe that black and white was king, when it wasn't. It was an audacious move that gave his naturalism a hyper reality and an incredible vividness.

In the 1970s and 1980s, English painting – with a few artists such as Francis Bacon excepted, perhaps– was collapsing. Photography and the images of British society were leading the way. We are only just beginning to realise this now.

They are not cruel images. They are sardonic. To call them cruel is historically illiterate. People said the same of Degas. It was just a lot of left-wing whinging and professional rivalry. Something like The Last Resort was among the greatest moments of British art in the 1980s. Yes it can be harsh but Martin is like George Orwell – he was creating these very incisive social commentaries.

The writer is an art history professor at the University of Sussex and a curator