Art & Photography

Martin Parr’s Unseen City

The celebrated photographer talks to PORT ahead of his new exhibition, which reveals a rarely seen side of England’s capital city

The City of London, a 1.12 square mile enclave on the north bank of the River Thames, is a historical and geographical peculiarity. Despite being a modern, functioning part of London, vying with New York as the financial capital of the world, ‘the City’ has preserved many of the millennium-old traditions and ceremonies, trades guilds and costume.

It is, then, the perfect subject for the celebrated British photographer Martin Parr – described by some as a chronicler of our age. His documentation of life in the ‘Square Mile’ was supported by the Guildhall Art Gallery where the photographs will be exhibited, and marks the latest chapter in his career-long survey of the UK.

“The City is an integral part of life in Britain and yet is very hidden away,” Parr tells PORT when asked why he wanted to focus on the City of London. “I find the contradiction between the tradition and the modernity absolutely fascinating.”

This juxtaposition is evident in Parr’s images; elaborate, antiquated costumes and golden staffs are set against high-visibility vests, smartphones and cheap rain jackets. Parr has often documented the class divide in his survey of British life but here, perhaps, there is an added poignancy. Although Parr is presenting us with images of the privileged, the middle aged and upper class, there is a certain joy in the pageantry and tradition – a wry British humour that smiles at the peculiar outdated fashions while enjoying the fact that these traditions still exist.

“I’m creating entertainment, but with a bit of a serious message thrown in if you want it,” Parr explains. “It’s documentary yet, when you get a good photograph, you can go beyond documentary.”

Unseen City will run at the Guildhall Art Gallery, EC2V 5AE until 31 July