I attended the exhibition as part of an organised visit with the Open College of the Arts, mostly to see the exhibition but also to make contact with other students.
The most publicised part of the exhibition was the newest work, “The Rhubarb Triangle”, though the curation of the galleries allowed for the newest work to sit within the wider Parr works providing something of a sum of his views, his photographic styles, his perspective as an observer of life around him and of himself.
Parr is to me a cultural photographic commentator whose work can take me through a range of responses from that of being quite uncomfortable to laughing quietly at what he’s seen and been able to deftly re-present to me or any other viewer.
The rhubarb triangle is an area between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell in which forced rhubarb growing provides early rhubarb crops. The process started in the area of West Yorkshire in the early 20th Century and previously included growing sheds over a larger area between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield. Rhubarb has in recent years seen a spike in popularity and the forced rhubarb of the 9 square miles currently cropped through sheds in the area has been granted protected designation of origin (PDO) and has been a subject of interest not only in Yorkshire (further information).
I find Parr’s work, sometimes quite difficult to view whilst still being appreciative of his skills of photography, of observation and of communication and this exhibition did leave me, at times, feeling uncomfortable as to his commentary on humanity in terms of the herd like mentality that can be seen of our species.
I found some of his earlier work interesting and considered the progression from monochrome images of rural churches to the pastimes of people who spend their leisure time in the lakes with picnics, and consumer culture. It also seemed quite relevant to have observations of large industrial scenes as well as the Rhubarb Triangle. And it was the curation of the exhibition space itself that led quite easily to an observation of Parr’s authorial voice having been consistent throughout his documentation of these apparently different subject matters. Parr will always communicate an observation of the herd in its sometimes laughable state and yet also I would imagine, many of those of us who observer his communications through imagery know that the joke is also upon us and it is the large scale reality of this ‘joke’ that can always lead of course to a profound sense of sadness. We, as a species haven’t really come very far in so many ways, whilst we all chase our clichéd tails consuming trends until we return to some golden oldie like rhubarb, and rhubarb becomes hipster food!
It’s the sense of the unspoken environmental impact and lack of emotional growth that Parr may or may not be hinting at with his images that disturbs me the most. So strangely whilst I am told his work has a ‘marmite’ effect, causing one to love or loathe his images I find I feel both those senses and quite a lot between as he drags me along showing me what I don’t always want to see.