Exercise: Peter Dench

The Brief:

Read the article on England Uncensored by the BBC Picture Editor Phil Coomes … Dench talks about his “humorous approach with an underlying social commentary”. What do you think of this approach? Does it work? What are the ethical issues?

(Open College of the Arts, 2014: 73)

As I commented in my previous blog about Dench’s work I found his England Uncensored the least offensive of his projects and I don’t really have a problem with this body of work. His other work definitely shows a bias towards boobs and booze which may seem humorous in a slapstick fashion at the time of viewing, but one really does have to wonder about the ethics of his work in The English Summer Scene, The British Abroad, and Alcohol & England.

In today’s social media run world, where employers frequently turn to Facebook, Instagram and other platforms to “investigate” potential employees to see whether they will be a suitable fit in their organizations, what part do images like those above play in that person’s future employability. Take the photograph (Fig 3) of the man being arrested for instance. That would definitely be a no starter for him if that photo comes to the attention of HR. The photos could also become cause for dismissal, depending on the position one holds in an organization.

On the other hand one could argue the case that the behaviour depicted in the photographs are the result of the subjects’ own actions, so they should live with the consequences. One also could claim that Dench was outside, presumably in a public road when that photograph (Fig 3) was taken, which would put him well within his rights to technically take that photograph. But what of those that are on private property? We have seen lately the repercussions of “innocent” photographs coming back to haunt people, for example Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau and his three instances of wearing “blackface”, as well as the Ralph Northam scandal in the USA.

Is Dench exploiting people not rationally able to make informed decisions about whether their photographs should be out there in cyberspace? Did he obtain a model release from them, I wonder and how valid would that model release be if they were as drunk as they appear?


Coomes, P. (2012) ‘England Uncensored by Peter Dench’ In: BBC News 29/02/2012 At: https://www.bbc.com/news/17190001 (Accessed  15/11/2019).

Open College of the Arts (2014) Photography 2: Documentary-Fact and Fiction (Course Manual). Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Schneider, G. and Vozzella, L. (2019) ‘How Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and aides made his blackface scandal even worse – The Washington Post’ 26/05/2019 At: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/how-va-gov-ralph-northam-and-aides-made-his-blackface-scandal-even-worse/2019/05/25/9a096912-7da0-11e9-8ede-f4abf521ef17_story.html (Accessed  15/11/2019).

What we know about Justin Trudeau’s blackface photos — and what happens next | CBC News (2019) At: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-votes-2019-trudeau-blackface-brownface-cbc-explains-1.5290664 (Accessed  15/11/2019).



Figure 1. Dench, P. (s.d.) the english summer season. At: http://www.peterdench.com/the-english-summer-season/DENCH_ENGLISH_SEASON11/ (Accessed on 15 November 2019)

Figure 2. Dench, P. (s.d.) the british abroad. At: http://www.peterdench.com/the-british-abroad/British_Abroad17/ (Accessed on 15 November 2019)

Figure 3. Dench, P. (s.d.) alcohol & england. At: http://www.peterdench.com/alcohol-england/A_E34/ (Accessed on 15 November 2019)

Exercise: Martin Parr


Read the document ‘Martin Parr: Photographic Works 1971 – 2000’ by the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television.

Watch an audio slide of Parr talking about his progression from B&W to colour photography and The Last Resort (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJinAgBYaLs). Another link that is no longer operable. This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by KS VISIONS.

In this video Martin Parr acknowledges and defends what he calls the “hypocrisy and prejudice” in his work. What do you think about this statement? Write a short reflective commentary in your learning log.

(Open College of the Arts, 2014: 72)

Because the recommended video to watch is no longer available I have watched another video (link in the bibliography), which hopefully addressed some of the topics in the unavailable one.

The video was really a reiteration of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television document that we were asked to read, except some opinions and comments were offered by Val Williams, David Hurn and Colin Jacobson.  The National Museum document gives a brief biography of Martin Parr: born in middle class suburbia, involved in bird watching and inherited his father’s love for collecting things, introduced to photography at an early age by his grandfather. His first series was produced at the age of sixteen where he photographed Harry Ramsden’s fish and chip shop. He studied photography at the Polytechnic College in Manchester.

He was interested in portraying ‘Britishness’, especially in his early work (June Street, Butlins by the Sea). The ordinary and banal were of particular interest to him and he documented these as a record because he realised that these were aspects that were fast being eroded and a dying way of life.

In the 1980s Parr began to use fill flash, medium format cameras and colour in his photography. His work became subjective exploring Britain’s cultural and social life from his own perspective. He was obsessed with class and consumerism and spent three years making The Last Resort, a project depicting working class families at leisure in New Brighton. The work is full of paradoxical juxtapositions: children lie suntanning and playing next to earth moving machinery; people sit eating among debris and litter. The series is quite depressing, but at the same time extremely thought provoking. The series was made in the Thatcher era and it was a political response to show the population that everything was not as great as Thatcher purported it to be. The series was well received in Liverpool when it opened but Parr picked up a lot of flak when it was exhibited in London. Those not familiar with New Brighton (outsiders) thought that the pictures were an afront on morality and an exploitation, because they did not understand what was happening.

His next project, The Cost of Living focused on middle class society. Parr realised that he was benefiting financially from his series on the working class and decided that the middle class had not really been examined in detail. Val Williams describes this series as being a sort of self portrait of Parr. Continuing with his fascination with consumerism, Parr explores new retail generation. Unlike The Last Resort, his subjects in The Cost of Living show restrained attitudes – nothing is done in excess.

While photographing Hebden Bridge in the 1970s where he lived for five years, trying to capture traditional aspects of life and the sense of community. He became quite fascinated with capturing and documenting life in the Methodist churches surrounding Hebden Bridge. When the people realised he was documenting the church, instead of becoming involved with it, Parr picked up a bit of flak from some of the locals. Parr came to realise that “however involved you get, you can never be part of the thing you are photographing” (Martin Parr interview). I think there is a definite ring of truth to that statement as the camera really does act as a barrier of sorts between you and your subjects.

We all approach themes or subjects that we photograph with a prejudice of some sort, whether we realise it or not. More often than not, its something that has been inbred in us, a by-product of the way we have been brought up or the way that life has shaped us along the way. But in Parr’s case I think the middle class prejudice works in his favour allowing him to weed out idiosyncrasies which we are so used to that we don’t see any more, bringing to the foreground objects that we wouldn’t even give a passing glance to, basically documenting life.



Martin Parr interview (The World According To Parr, 2003) (2018) At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCRyB2SFQZ4 (Accessed  15/11/2019).

Open College of the Arts (2014) Photography 2: Documentary-Fact and Fiction (Course Manual). Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.


Figure 1. Parr, M. (1983) GB. England. New Brighton. From ‘The Last Resort’. 1983-85. At: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/CS.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=2K1HZOBOYVPREJ&SMLS=1&RW=1680&RH=886 (Accessed on 15 November 2019)

Figure 2. Parr, M. (1983) GB. England. New Brighton. From ‘The Last Resort’. 1983-85. At: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/CS.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=2K1HZOBOYVPREJ&SMLS=1&RW=1680&RH=886 (Accessed on 15 November 2019)

Figure 3. Parr, M. (1986) GB. England. Bristol. Conservative Election victory party aboard SS Great Britain. From ‘The Cost of Living’. 1986-89. At: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/CS.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=2K1HZOBOYV08XL&SMLS=1&RW=1680&RH=886#/SearchResult&VBID=2K1HZOBOYV08XL&SMLS=1&RW=1680&RH=886&POPUPIID=29YL53ZP8U4D&POPUPPN=45 (Accessed on 15 November 2019)

Figure 4. Parr, M. (1986) GB. England. Bristol. Laura Ashley sale. From ‘The Cost of Living’. 1986-89. At: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/CS.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=2K1HZOBOYV08XL&SMLS=1&RW=1680&RH=886#/SearchResult&VBID=2K1HZOBOYV08XL&SMLS=1&RW=1680&RH=886&POPUPIID=29YL53ZP8ZEW&POPUPPN=43 (Accessed on 15 November 2019)

Exercise: Documentary Dilemmas

The Brief

Read Brett Roger’s introduction to the online gallery of Documentary Dilemmas at: http://collection.britishcouncil.org/whats_on/exhibition/11/14136 (the link doesn’t work – its requesting a username and password).

Follow the ‘Glossary’ link.

Look at the work of the photographers highlighted above and others.

You might find it useful to read the Arts Council document Changing Britain as a brief contextual background to Documentary Dilemmas.

(Open College of the Arts, 2014: 71)

Well once again a link that doesn’t work so I’m unable to read Brett Rogers’ introductory essay. All that I can glean from the British Council’s website is the following information:

In her essay in the accompanying catalogue she outlined the historical background to the ‘renaissance’ of documentary photography which took place in Britain during the 1980s, starting with the work of established figures such as Martin Parr and Paul Graham and exploring the work of those they have influenced such as John Kippin, Anna Fox and Antony Haughey.

(British Council – Visual Arts, s.d.)

The artists who exhibited at this exhibition were:

  • John Davies (researched during Landscape module – here and here). Documented topology and archaeology of Sheffield, focusing on the industries in Northern England, relationship between social and industrial history
  • Anna Fox (researched during IAP – here and here)
  • Julian Germain (researched during IAP – here). Documents various social groups in snapshot aesthetic
  • Paul Graham (researched (during Landscape module – here) Documented political and social landscape
  • Tommy Harris – could find no work on the internet by him, nor any reference articles.
  • Anthony Haughey – documents diaspora, migrants,
  • Chris Killip (researched here )
  • John Kippin – integrates text into images to challenges the perceptions of documentry
  • Karen Knorr (research during IAP – here)
  • Martin Parr (researched during Landscape – here and during IAP here and here)
  • Paul Reas (researched during Landscape – here )
  • Paul Seawright (researched during Landscape – here and here in C&N)
  • Jem Southam (researched during Landscape – here and here

We are also directed to follow the ‘Glossary’ link which I managed to locate. However, much of what is discussed in the Glossary segment is about work that we have already covered in this course, so I am linking back to them and not re-commenting:

The Changing Britain document is mainly a PR document on the history of the British Arts Council and also referred to quite a number of photographers also previously researched:

  • Bill Brandt (here and here)
  • Daniel Meadows (here and here)
  • Paul Graham (during Landscape module – here)
  • Vanley Burke – a Jamaican photographer now residing in the UK. I’m not quite sure why he is featured in this section of the course work as his online portfolio features B&W work. A few very interesting photographs on South Africa though.

British Council – Visual Arts (s.d.) DOCUMENTARY DILEMMAS | Past | Exhibitions. At: http://visualarts.britishcouncil.org/exhibitions/past/documentary-dilemmas-1993 (Accessed  14/11/2019).

Haughey, A. (s.d.) Anthony Haughey | Artist, Lecturer, Researcher. At: http://anthonyhaughey.com/ (Accessed  14/11/2019).

Open College of the Arts (2014) Photography 2: Documentary-Fact and Fiction (Course Manual). Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Vanley.co.uk-Portfolio (s.d.) At: http://www.vanley.co.uk/portfolio (Accessed  14/11/2019).