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What We Learned This Week: Martin Parr's Resignation From Festival Sparks Cancel Culture Debate

By David Schonauer   Friday July 31, 2020


A high profile resignation.

Destroyed books.

And a new debate over cancel culture.

As we noted this week, Martin Parr, the esteemed photographer of British life, has resigned as artistic director of the Bristol Photo Festival following a protest alleging racial insensitivity. Parr came under fire for contributing an introduction to a 2017 reissue of the 1969 photography book London, by the late Italian photographer Gian Butturini, which according to critics features racist imagery.

The book of black-and-white photographs, taken in late ’60s London, includes a picture of a Black woman on one page, with the facing image presenting a photo of a gorilla at a zoo, noted Artnet News.

Mercedes Baptiste Halliday, a 20-year-old University College London anthropology student, received London as an 18th-birthday present from her father and later said she was shocked to see Butturini’s “appallingly racist” spread. Baptiste Halliday launched an 18-month protest against the book and Parr's involvement, first calling attention to the problematic juxtaposition on Twitter. She also picketed a Parr exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery.

In the wake of Baptise Halliday's campaign, Parr instructed Damiani, the publisher of the book in question, to discontinue publication, and for existing copies of the book to be destroyed.

In a further message to Baptise Halliday, which she published, Parr admitted: "This is no excuse, but I'm nearly 70-years-old and a white man and regretfully I'm coming to realize that sometimes I have failed to see things from another perspective.”

Parr’s decision to quit as artistic director of the inaugural Bristol Photo Festival “has sparked a heated debate on how so-called 'cancel culture' relates to the handling of historical photographs and industry elites,” noted The Art Newspaper.

“The controversy,” added TAN, “has raised questions of whether long-established figures such as Parr still deserve deference and respect, and whether potentially problematic images be viewed and discussed at all, or should be lost to time.”

Despite Parr's apology and attempts to atone for his support of the book, Baptise Halliday called for the “generation of white middle-aged men” that Parr is seen to represent “to be dismantled,” notes TAN.

John Edwin Mason, a photographer and professor of African history at the University of Virginia, told TAN that the photography world is now living in a “new reality”.

“The photo industry, especially in Western nations, is going through a time of internal reckoning with racism and sexism, issues that people in power have been able to ignore or push aside,” he said.

Here are some of the other photo stories we spotlighted this week:
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1.The Winners of the 2020 iPhone Photography Awards


Dimpy Bhalotia, an Indian photographer based in Britain, is the winner of the 2020 iPhone Photography Awards for her black-and-white photo of three boys in Varanasi, India, captured jumping off a man-made cliff into the Ganges river to beat the heat during an Indian summer day. The photo, noted The Washington Post, was made with an iPhone X. “It’s the most decluttered form of my world,” Rhalotia says of shooting in black and white. The Post featured other work from runners up and finalists.


2. Harry Gruyaert's Colorful "Edges"

In the foreword to Harry Gruyaert's photography book Edges, sculptor Richard Nonas sums up the work of his good friend. "Harry Gruyaert ignores the grammar of center and edge, finds the blurred boundaries of overlapping life, the places where one thing has begun to be another thing," Nonas writes. "He photographs processes, not results. He photographs moments caught in transition.” Gruyaert, 78, has spent his entire career as a photographer and cinematographer, but this book came together by happenstance, noted NPR.


3.  Photo of Rare Black Panther

Black panthers are notoriously difficult to glimpse in the wild, and even more challenging to photograph. However, wildlife photographer Shaaz Jung specializes in tracking down these animals: He’s been photographing elusive black panthers  for the last four years, and his most recent images of the big cats have gone viral, noted My Modern Met. His images of a black panther exploring Kabini Forest in Karnataka, India were recently posted on Twitter, where they’ve been shared over 60,000 times.


4. Inside the Homes of Hermits

When the Russian photographer Natalia Ershova was in school, working on her journalism degree, she fell ill. As a result, she was unable to leave home for two months. To combat the isolation and loneliness, she communicated with friends online and came to understand that many people simply prefer staying home. The result, noted Feature Shoot, is her series  “Journey to the Edge of the Room,” which examines the emerging culture of people in big cities who prefer to remain mostly homebound. It’s particularly relevant these days.


5. Roy Ritchie's "Crush the Ball"

"Since the lockdown during the pandemic, a lot of people have lost their jobs, and also have been isolated. It is easy to feel depressed and hopeless these days,"  Roy Ritchie, a freelance photographer and filmmaker based in Detroit and Los Angeles, told us when we featured his short film “Crush the Ball.” With time on his hands, Ritchie created the video project spec piece as a Nike television ad. The video, which features a man pushing himself to the limit on a basketball court, speaks to the positive attitude needed to get through our coronavirus age, Ritchie said.
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At top: From Harry Gruyaert

2 Comments

  1. Lothar Troeller commented on: July 31, 2020 at 1:50 p.m.
    Dimpy Bhalotia's highest jumping person (almost) creates a swastika with his arms and legs. Nobody saw that? Somebody at AI-AP has to resign!!
  1. Brad Trent commented on: July 31, 2020 at 2:25 p.m.
    Lothar...too bloody funny!!!

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