Hull, Portrait of a City
I have recently been to see two exhibitions at the Humber Street Gallery in Hull. Martin Parr and Olivia Arthur were asked to explore the culture and creativity of Hull, UK City of Culture. Both exhibitions were displayed in large galleries and each was very different to the other. Colour v black and white being the first thing I noticed and then, familiar v formal. Given the subject matter of documenting Hull’s culture I was interested in the two very different interpretations.
I have seen some of Parr’s work before, at the Hepworth, Wakefield and I considered his exhibition ‘The Rhubarb Triangle’ in my studies last year, Martin Parr at the Hepworth. I was therefore keen to see more of his work and went to Hull at the end of December 2017 to the Humber Street Gallery. A delightful gallery; small looking from the outside but huge spaces within, and a lovely cup of coffee. As soon as I entered the gallery I recognised the images as Parr’s trademark style. Vibrant colour as always with a touch of humour. Parr’s images were interesting and captivating. I wanted to look at every detail.
Parr’s images explored the diverse food and eating culture of Hull giving a ‘fresh perspective on this extraordinary year for the city’ (Hull UK City of Culture 2017). We see fish and chips, patty butties, specialist supermarkets and gastro pubs which all serve to illustrate the emphasis that is placed on food and social eating in the culture of the City. The display above was made up of many smaller images in rows in contrast to the main display of larger photographs. Below is a closer view.
Three of Parr’s images
We see not only the social aspects of food but the serving of it and the display of it.
I like the use of red in these images. Red suggests energy and passion and features a lot in these photographs. The eye is drawn to the small red accent in the top image which makes the viewer linger over the dining room for a while. The red clothing in the bottom two images draws attention to the men as being proud and vital in their community.
A favourite image of mine
When I was about ten years old in the seventies my mum used to take my sister and I to a fish and chip restaurant every now and again. We always joked that we wanted ‘bread and butter, buttered on both sides’ as that is exactly what we got after the bread had been stored like this in a warm restaurant for a while.
Hard working and proud
Parr’s images show a culture of hard work surrounding the running of businesses and preparing food. This photograph epitomises the family dedication to working hard and making a successful living. The humour of the blackboard joke is typical of traditional Yorkshire humour from the past and we get a sense of history from it as well as a sense of mutual respect through the irony. We know that the joke is only a joke.
I was very interested in the informal nature of the display of this series. The photographs were aligned close and secured with what appeared to be tacks. The informal presentation complimented the informal feel of the images.
I wanted these images to be in colour! My main query was why were they in black and white. One of the Gallery’s volunteers explained that the images had been taken with an old camera and hence the black and white. I have since come across this explanation:
The choice to shoot 5×4 black and white photos was very deliberate on Olivia’s part as a means of slowing her process down and being more careful about the photos she was taking. “I have to change the film after every single shot so it all becomes a bit more considered, and I am really enjoying that at the moment,” (It’s Nice That, 2018)
Arthur’s images explored the city’s youth culture from ‘Elvis impersonators to pet snakes, football, bodybuilders, teenage style, relationships and young families’ (ibid). Arthur’s work was made possible by building relationships with the young people and being invited into their homes to photograph them within their own environments. The result is a series of images that show an honesty and individuality among the portraits of the young Hull residents.
What was striking about this gallery was the use of white and blue walls. It immediately felt welcoming and stylish and interesting.
I compared this presentation with the informal presentation used by Martin Parr. Parr used ‘tacks’ to secure his non framed images. Arthur uses frames set equidistantly, like you would hang pictures in your home. This gave a more formal feel to the exhibition.
I felt that the white walls and blue walls worked well together and enhanced the display when contrasted with the black frames and the monochrome images. It was very bold and striking.
Above is an image of a young Hull resident, exploring her passion for dancing and set in her own home. We get a sense of personality here, identity and way of life.
I thoroughly enjoyed these exhibitions. Two very different approaches to the representation of Hull’s culture. It has made me consider topics and presentation and differing viewpoints as well as interpretations and technical differences.
Hull UK City of Culture 2017. (2018). Hull, Portrait of a City: Olivia Arthur and Martin Parr – Hull UK City of Culture 2017. [online] Available at: https://www.hull2017.co.uk/discover/article/hull-portrait-city-olivia-arthur-martin-parr/ [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].
Humber Street Gallery (2017) Gallery publicity paper (available at the time from the Gallery)
It’s Nice That. (2018). Behind Olivia Arthur and Martin Parr’s show, Hull, Portrait of a City. [online] Available at: https://www.itsnicethat.com/news/olivia-arthur-martin-parrs-hull-portrait-of-a-city-photography-021017 [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].
All images were taken on my phone with permission from the very friendly and helpful staff at the Humber Street Gallery.