Love 'em or loathe 'em, there's no mistaking the photographs of Martin Parr. From his early black-and-white studies of life around Hebden Bridge in the 1970s (it was full of oddball characters even then!) to the 1960s postcard-bright images which have subsequently become his trademark, he has captured people at work and at play in unique documentary fashion.
One of Parr's most recent projects has been to chronicle goings-on in and beyond those mysterious low-roofed sheds of the 'Rhubarb Triangle' – from farmers harvesting the shoots by candlelight to
coach parties of foodies tucking into the peculiar pink delicacy. Built around his favourite themes of work and leisure, it forms the centrepiece of the current big exhibition at The Hepworth
Wakefield, which runs until Sunday 12 June.
Featuring more than 400 images spanning his 40-year career, The Rhubarb Triangle and Other Stories is the most comprehensive retrospective of Parr's work since a show at the Barbican, in London, as long ago as 2002. It includes his first major collection, The Non-Conformists (1975–80) – the aforementioned 'Hebden Bridge' photographs – The Last Resort (1983–85), Autoportrait (1991–2012) and The Cost of Living (1989).
Although born and growing up in the Surrey stockbroker belt, the maternal side of Parr's
family has Yorkshire roots and he initially settled down on the right side of Todmorden passport control after graduating from Manchester Polytechnic in 1973. It was here, inspired by his partner Susie, that he started photographing people and places whose traditions were disappearing as isolated communities were overtaken by late 20th century ways, the results of which became The Non-Conformists. Since then, his camera has documented life in his characteristically colourful (both literally and metaphorically) style across the world.
As a long-standing fan of Parr, the Hepworth's director, Simon Wallis, is understandably thrilled to be hosting this new show. He said: “It's wonderful to be able to realise this exhibition as
part of The Hepworth Wakefield's fifth anniversary celebrations. I'm especially delighted that this new compendium of powerful and memorable images by Martin, which explores Yorkshire's fascinating
'Rhubarb Triangle', will not only be on display in the heartland of this quintessential British food but that 10 works from this new commission will enter Wakefield's art collection.
“This will also be a superb opportunity to see major work from all points of Martin's career.”
As always with the Hepworth, the exhibition will be a focus for a range of complementary one-off events. Parr will judge the results of a schools photography competition, for ages three to 18, with the winners going on display in the gallery, while on 20 February he hosted a pop-up studio at the Hepworth
where more than 70 individuals, groups and families booked to have their portraits taken. They travelled from as far afield as Germany and Italy for this unique opportunity, including three
generations of one Wakefield family plus cats, dogs, a rabbit and a goldfish – see a report on the day here.
Commenting on the studio sessions, Simon Wallis, said: “We had an amazing response. People really seized the opportunity to have their photograph taken by one of the world’s leading photographers. We were delighted to welcome visitors from across Europe for this special event and to showcase the best of Wakefield and Yorkshire.”
And on the young photographers' contest, he added: “Inspiring generations old and young is a crucial part of what we do here and I am so pleased that Martin Parr will also be judging the schools photography competition. Who knows, we could be helping to inspire a future world-renowned photographer.”
For more information, go to www.hepworthwakefield.org.