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The Rhubarb Triangle and Other Stories, The Hepworth Wakefield

The Hepworth Wakefield showcases Martin Parr’s most recent work in their latest exhibition The Rhubarb Triangle and Other Stories which is the largest Martin Parr exhibition in the UK since 2002. The exhibition is a combination of the artist’s earlier photographs from his 1970s collection The Non-conformists up until his most recent pictures from The Rhubarb Triangle, showcasing an impressive 370 photographs spanning over 40 years.

The Non-conformists is compiled of photographs taken from 1975 to 1980 in a small village in Calderdale. Parr wanted to capture an insight into the community’s local traditions and way of living before its disappearance. The photographs in this collection are published in black and white; a somber tone emphasises the decline of the town. Images present the Dean Methodist Chapel, the local quarry and the once-thriving carpet factory, to demonstrate the day-to-day lives of the people still trying to keep the town alive.

The second collection in the exhibition is The Last Resort which documents leisure at the seaside town of New Brighton, Merseyside. For this particular collection, Parr has often been criticised for demonstrating a negative portrayal of the working class, as the images are unsympathetically exposing. Spanning over three years from 1983 to 1985, Parr even photographed during the record-breaking heatwave of 1983, yet, rather than showing picturesque settings of the beach itself, he draws attention to the run-down, littered and crowded spaces of the seaside shops and cafés. The images of unhappy children and distressed adults expose the difficulties of family life and suggest that “leisure time” at the seaside is not leisure for the working class.

Following The Last Resort is a similar collection The Cost of Living, which responds to the earlier social criticism that Parr had received. In response to this, he documents the life of the middle class in post-Thatcher Britain, as Parr himself commented that this particular social sphere had rarely been photographed. Politically, Parr was in opposition to the Conservative Party, and yet his images portray the thriving success of the middle classes by capturing their social events through the lens: craft fairs and the Badminton horse trials. Yet again, this series is pervaded by dark undertones as the flourishing  middle classes are celebrated in these images, excelled in contrast to the crumbling of the working class way of life.

Despite the appreciation of Parr’s earlier work, at the centre of the exhibition is his more recent collection, The Rhubarb Triangle, 2014-2016. The images were taken over the last twelve months in an area between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell known as “The Rhubarb Triangle.” Photographs are ordered chronologically, starting with images of the rhubarb being removed from the fields and placed in heated sheds. Brightly coloured against the dim palette of the farm, the artist highlights the importance of this vegetable to the local community. The collection then moves to images of the rhubarb being picked and shown in the town centre, finally to be baked and sold.

Lighter and more humorous in comparison to his earlier work, Parr redeems the image of the British working class by providing a unique insight into this treasured form of industry, which was initially cultivated in the 19th century. The images of the farmers at work demonstrate the sense of productiveness that had previously not been displayed. The way in which Parr documents the production of the rhubarb, and structures the images chronologically, forms a story with a purpose; the audience are able to appreciate the importance of local industry and consumerism.

Nicole Anderson

The Rhubarb Triangle and Other Stories: photographs by Martin Parr, The Hepworth Wakefield, until 10th June.
For more visit: www.hepworthwakefield.org

Credits:
1.  Martin Parr, GB. England. West Yorkshire. Wakefield. David Asquith. The Rhubarb Triangle. 2015. © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos. Courtesy Martin Parr and The Hepworth Wakefield.
2. Martin Parr 1985. GB. England. New Brighton. From The Last Resort (1983-85). Courtesy of Magnum Photos.
3.  Martin Parr, GB. England. West Yorkshire. Elland. Jubilee street party. From Bad Weather (1977). Courtesy of Magnum Photos.

4. Martin Parr 1985. GB. England. New Brighton. From The Last Resort (1983-85). Courtesy of Magnum Photos.