Unseen City • Martin Parr at the Guildhall

An exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery in London EC2, and photography is allowed, the first time I have seen a big notice to that effect.

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I decided to view ‘Unseen City’ in the same excursion as the ‘Strange and Familiar’ exhibition at the Barbican because the two are connected by Martin Parr, curator of the Barbican exhibition and featured photographer at the Guildhall.

The background to Unseen City is that Parr has been the City of London’s photographer-in-residence since 2013. In this context, ‘City of London’ does not mean the buildings, streets and office workers, but the rarified world of Lord Mayors, livery companies, pomp, dinners and ceremonial. With unprecedented access to the personalities, events and ‘behind the scenes’, I wondered if he would do for the City what he had previously done for New Brighton (Parr and Walker, 1998). In my view, the answer is ‘yes and no’.

In the 100 or so images on display, we see a fair amount of formal images of events and people, but the playful eye and sense of fun is never far away. In this image of two ward beadles (whatever they are) the men are mirrored, and somehow commented on, by the statue behind them. Also, we see their suitcases and the fleeces and scarves which will replace or cover the formal suits once the ceremony is over.

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My favourite print is this one, musketeers from the Poulterers livery company at an Ash Wednesday event being watched by patrons of Pret a Manger. The expression on the nearest musketeer’s face says it all.

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In other images of the Lord Mayor’s Show, behind the scenes, we never quite see the proverbial ‘man with the bucket’ but we can be sure he is lurking in the wings somewhere.

The ‘… and no’ part of my answer comes because of the access that Parr has to his subjects, rather than being an outside observer as he was in New Brighton. As a viewer, I felt more like an insider than a voyeur. I also suspect that his city subjects are happier with the results than his Merseysiders.

Reference

Parr, M. and Walker, I. (1998) The Last Resort – Photographs of New Brighton by Martin Parr, Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing

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