/ Review

Martin Parr: The Rhubarb Triangle & Other Stories. Exhibition Review

Words: James Cooper-Mitchell and Anna Sanders

“I really like the fact that the VIP guests tonight are the rhubarb growers, I’m very much in favour of bringing things back to the people where they (the photos) were taken”

– Martin Parr

GB. England. West Yorkshire. Wakefield. Westwards. The Rhubarb Triangle. 2014. © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos. Courtesy Martin Parr and The Hepworth Wakefield.

More than thirty years on from the black and white documentation of the rural, isolated farming communities of Yorkshire that was his first mature body of work, Martin Parr has come home, his revered and unassuming gaze now turned to the fondly named ‘Rhubarb Triangle’.

The triangle, caught somewhere between the frost-bitten fields of Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell, has seen a decline in Rhubarb growers since the 19th Century, and Parr has spent the last winter documenting these final, remaining few. Though native to Siberia, this quiet patch of West Yorkshire provides the ideal growing conditions for these plants which have become so ingrained within British culture. The exhibition honestly, and somewhat romantically, details the labour-intensive work which is done by hand, and in it’s final stages, by candle-light to prevent photosynthesis.

Rhubarb Farmer Bill Taylor takes first look at ‘The Rhubarb Triangle & Other Stories: Photographs by Martin Parr’ at The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo © Justin Slee. Image courtesy Martin Parr and The Hepworth Wakefield.

The untold, forgotten stories of our world are the ones Parr seeks to tell, his honest portrayals of the ordinary made extraordinary have brought him notoriety; often misunderstood as exploitive, his work poignantly captures the everyday, celebrating the sense of community unique to British culture. And it is this sense of community that is always at the heart of his work, and his new exhibition at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield is no different. Sentimental in its unsentimentally, the retrospective details his candid, often humorous aesthetic.

Often the outsider, his view of the world is starkly unique. What he finds to be exotic is not war or plague or famine on the other side of the world, but a dropped ice cream cone on a windy beach in Liverpool, or the beach-worn bodies at Brighton pier. Familiar yet strange, his work evokes a sense of belonging and remembrance through the known made new.

Visitor takes first look at ‘The Rhubarb Triangle & Other Stories: Photographs by Martin Parr’ at The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo © Justin Slee. Image courtesy Martin Parr and The Hepworth Wakefield. 

“I was always enthralled with this sense of community in the North of England and I immediately took to this which was very different to the non community I had in suburban Surrey”

His empathy with his subjects is infectious, his passion to record their lives humbling; despite an extensive catalogue of travel it is clear that Britain and her quirks are always where he returns to in his work. Throughout the interview, he frequently touches on the subjective nature of his photography, the absurdity of class, and his bafflement that his photographs of cultural life in Britain could cause controversy; a nuance that would prove to be a recurrent theme throughout his career.

“This job is part therapeutic, exploring my own paths, my own prejudices”

We are slowly revealed and reconciled to our own nature as we move around the exhibition. A documentarian in the truest sense. It is safe to say that here in Yorkshire there will not be too much controversy over his latest work. By visiting the Hepworth you may just be lucky enough to understand your surroundings and your place within it better than you did before, and that is really his greatest strength.

“Photography is the ultimate democratic art form”

Image: The Hepworth Wakefield. © Hufton + Crow.

The Rhubarb Triangle & Other Stories: Photographs by Martin Parr
4 February – 12 June 2016
The Hepworth Wakefield, West Yorkshire
01924 247360
Free admission