To inaugurate its new exhibition space, the Fondation HCB presents an original exhibition on the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) and Martin Parr (born 1952). With a “large gap” between them, according to Parr, the show reconciles the two photographers through their perspectives on Northern English society, at work and at play, in three different eras.
Renowned photographer Martin Parr stirred up controversy with his color photographs of the British “working class” on the beaches of Northern England. His attempt to join Magnum in 1989 was met with outcry—even agency co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson was angered by the prospect. A meeting between the two artists eventually led to friendly reconciliation and the possibility of coexistence between their differing views on photography, which, in the words of Cartier-Bresson, come from “two separate solar systems.” Parr joined Magnum Photos in 1994.
While the two photographers were open about their artistic differences, a recent discovery adds nuance. In 2021, the Cinémathèque française unearthed a film by Douglas Hickox, made for British television station ITV/ABC in 1962. It was shot with a rostrum camera and features photography by Henri Cartier-Bresson. In Stop laughing – This is England, Cartier-Bresson offers an entertaining portrait of the English at work and at play in the country’s industrial north. His photographs, commissioned for the film, as well as commentary, bear an unsettling resemblance to the much-maligned work of Martin Parr, published in The Last Resort in 1986, some 24 years later.
The exhibition Reconciliation presents Cartier-Bresson’s original prints, the raw material for the film (also on show), The Last Resort, a book by Martin Parr, and Black Country Stories, one of Parr’s more recent commissions (2009/2010), which sees the artist retracing his steps in Northern England to take photographs…of the English at work and at play: three time periods and two perspectives on a society and its transformations (1962, 1986, 2010). As Cartier-Bresson put it: “England is the most exotic place in the world.”