While Martin Parr has been busy promoting and preserving the works of British photographers and images taken in the British Isles, controversy has recently erupted about his alleged backing of racism within the very genre he supports. It unfolded last week with a tweet from LessThanHumanDebate, which sparked a discussion about a book edited by Parr from the 1960s.
The tweet lamented about the double page layout from the photo book LONDON by Gian Butturini, which first came out as a self-published volume in 1969. Fast-forward to more recent times, Martin Parr is one of the editors and authors of texts included in the edition republished by Damiani in 2017. The double page in question shows juxtaposed images of a black woman and a caged gorilla.
Utterly horrified and appalled to see this double page layout in a book about London, edited by #MartinParr. It’s time to confront such vile #racism within #BritishPhotography. Get involved with the #LessThanHumanDebate. #photography #photojournalism #photoethics pic.twitter.com/AaXX0phhxn
— LessThanHumanDebate (@LTHdebate) May 27, 2019
That’s a good point. But This book, edited by #MartinParr was published in 2017. It was sold in London bookshops. The pairing of an elderly Black woman with a gorilla is grotesquely disturbing and offensive to #Londoners. No point trying to excuse such abuse. #lessthanhumandebate https://t.co/Mab6yUTan2
— LessThanHumanDebate (@LTHdebate) May 28, 2019
“The blacks are sad. The blacks are good. The blacks are dignified. I was photographing them in Portobello Road, but they forced me to flee.”
Gian Butturini, 1969.
— LessThanHumanDebate (@LTHdebate) June 3, 2019
From one perspective, it’s easy to see why “utterly horrified and appalled” are the words we see on the tweet. But perhaps the more important question being asked is how did such an uncomfortable juxtaposition slip past the editors and even the publishers of this reprint? This is exactly what people are wondering about, but second only to the call to put an end to what are claims of racist imagery. Some are even calling for Damiani to drop this book altogether.
— Chirag Wakaskar (@chiragwakaskar) May 28, 2019
No word yet from Parr about this issue, and we’re sure many are now waiting for even a comment from the celebrated documentary photographer. Some have lamented that Parr has even described the book as “fantastic” while promoting it in an event, knowing that this juxtaposition wasn’t omitted in the reprint.
So, we all wait for Martin Parr to give his statement on this matter, lest he continues to be under fire for such a controversial and distasteful juxtaposition, especially by today’s standards.
Photo via Amazon