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Working Men’s Clubs Through The Eyes of Martin Parr

Following Aesthetica’s feature on Martin Parr’s Parrworld at BALTIC last year, we take a look at his new show Working Men’s Clubs.

Martin Parr’s inimitable style of candid photography returns in the valleys of South Wales as his new show opens next week at the Earlswood Working Men’s Club in Cardiff. Originally being from the South Wales Valleys myself, this exhibition instantly appeals to me. My first thought was that I was glad such an honest, frank photographer was undertaking the task of documenting the spirit of these valley communities. Parr aims to capture for posterity the sense of society and place that is encapsulated in Working Men’s Clubs – a tradition that seems to be dying out in contemporary society. Over the past six months, he has visited many of the Welsh clubs, compiling his anthology of collective identity, social gatherings and civic behaviour. You get the feeling that instead of holding his subjects up in a mocking way, Parr is joining with them and celebrating a sense of community and the coming-together of generations through shared experience;

“It’s the dancing that I really like. Regardless of age, when those familiar numbers are played, up we all get, shaking our bodies and waving our arms, singing along. Our mutual pop history is part of our DNA. Often bands bring their own lighting to dramatise the stage show. With whirling colours and flashing lights, the heady combination of four generations dancing together was, for me, the highlight of this project.”
- Martin Parr

The images depict those in their 40s through to those in their 80s moving in the same spaces, dancing and playing bingo. There is a nostalgic feeling that something is lost in the spaces we socialise in more widely now which are synonymous with anonymity and newness, instead of tradition, routine and the local community.

The venue itself is an important aspect in the bringing together of like-minded individuals from the community, giving them a space for social collaboration. This feeling of the significance of space is emphasised in the way this exhibition is being housed at one of the clubs, allowing the viewer to experience the life and surroundings in a truly apt context. Parr, who wanted to embrace the unconventional gallery space to complement the body of project, chose Earlswood Working Men’s Club as a venue. The presence of the Welsh national flag throughout the series illustrates not only the importance of their Club, but of their city, environment and a wider connection.

The project is a collaboration between Safle in Cardiff and the University of Wales, Newport and is one of four photography commissions from ‘Imaging the City’, conceived by Russell Roberts and Emma Price. The other artists involved in this project include Paul Shambroom, Sarah Pickering and Dan Holdsworth, all aiming to reflect the changing urban landscape and iconography of Cardiff as a city.

“Parr has captured the essence of the Working Men’s Clubs as cultural institutions in delivering the ‘Saturday night out’. Parr, through his series of colour photographs of club life with its large dance floors, affordable beer and live music, has revealed some of the distinctive qualities of the eclectic evenings of entertainment and unabashed enjoyment”
- Emma Price (Co-Curator of the project)

Although these images might depict a Saturday night out a world away from what you usually expect, they encapsulate the importance of a sense of belonging, community and enjoyment that will one day be lost forever. If you let yourself go, you might just enjoy it.

Martin Parr Working Men’s Clubs is at Earlswood Working Men’s Club from Thursday 11 February 2010 – 14 March 2010. For more info please visit www.safle.com

Image Credits: All Images (c) Martin Parr. Used with Kind Permission.

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