A tale of two cities: Martin Parr's photography captures Manchester then and now

From pies at Bury market to gluten-free brownies in the Northern Quarter, photographer Martin Parr finds signs of change amid the ephemeral and the mundane. William Cook catches up with him in his Bristol studio

Sunday 09 December 2018 11:05
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Knees up at Yates's Wine Lodge, in Ashton-Under-Lyne: these lodges had a dismal reputation, seemingly designed for taking the quickest route to oblivion
Knees up at Yates's Wine Lodge, in Ashton-Under-Lyne: these lodges had a dismal reputation, seemingly designed for taking the quickest route to oblivion

At Manchester Art Gallery, in the beating heart of England’s most happening city (sorry, London – you’ve had your turn), Martin Parr is showing a gaggle of reporters around his latest exhibition. It’s called Return to Manchester, and the title is telling. Parr is a southern softy, born and raised in Surrey, but it was as a photography student at Manchester Polytechnic in the early 1970s that he found his creative focus. His first exhibition, back in 1971, was just down the road, in a corridor at Kendal Milne department store. Half a century later he’s back in the metropolis that made him, to open a one man show of Mancunian photos, then and now.

It’s an exhibition of two halves: black and white photographs of the rundown Manchester of the 1970s; colour photos of the dynamic Manchester of today. Wry and playful, yet imbued with a deep, unspoken sense of melancholy, it’s a profound and powerful evocation of the way that Manchester – and Martin Parr – has changed. “I had a fantastic time in Manchester,” he says, and his affection for the city – then and now – is evident in these photos.

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