In the 1980s the Left wing Labour council in Manchester flew a banner over the Town Hall proclaiming their determination to defend jobs and services against the Tory government . In 2018 it is the cranes of property developers that haunt the skyscape while streets are filled with the well heeled with their posh flats, expensive restaurants and exclusive shops. Many Mancunians no longer feel the city is theirs.
Martin Parr came to Manchester from leafy Surrey in the 1970s to study photography and in this new retrospective of his work “Return to Manchester “ he, more than anyone, has documented the rise and fall of the working class in the city.
Parr began photographing the city and its surrounding areas in black and white which captured a proud if poor community walking the city streets. The black and white community of Moss Side dominates in photographs of streets and pubs and festivals. He also photographed the old fashioned and now extinct Yates Wine Lodges which had their own clientele of older men and women sipping their blobs of hot water, sugar and wine.
Parr was given access to Prestwich Mental Hospital, which probably would not be allowed today. Over three months he captured the day-to-day life of the hospital. It is the patients’ faces that draw me in, as they watch Parr and he watches them.
In the 1990s his photos broke into colour: he never returned to black and white. Bright and vivid colours reflect a changing landscape, including a Salford in all its glory of hypermarkets and hairdressers. Reel forward to 2018 and we see the decline of the St.Patrick’s Day procession and the rise of the Pride parade. Football, the many faces of the Muslim community and the celebration of a Royal Wedding show northerners in their best clothes and with a smile on their faces. One of the few overtly political pictures is of a student holding a copy of the Militant newspaper to the camera in Salford’s Working Class Movement Library.
Parr’s city is in colour; devoid of the everyday homeless who dominate the city’s streets and of the protests against austerity. Maybe colour would not cope with the reality of life in Manchester today; maybe Manchester in 2018 should be in black and white.
Martin Parr: Return to Manchester
Friday 16 November 2018–Monday 22 April 2019