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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