Magnum Photographer Martin Parr Steps Down from Festival Following Outcry Over 'Racist' Photobook

Magnum Photographer Martin Parr Steps Down from Festival Following Outcry Over 'Racist' Photobook

Documentary photographer and former president of Magnum Photos Martin Parr has stepped down from his post as the Artistic Director of Bristol Photo Festival following complaints that he edited a racist photobook.

Parr wrote the foreword of the reissue of a 1969 photobook by photographer Gian Butturini. Entitled “London,” the photobook was released in 2017 by Italian publisher Damiani. The concerns over racism were raised last year after readers noted that a photograph of a caged gorilla was juxtaposed with a photograph of a Black woman. 

As well as writing the introductory text, Parr is listed on the book’s cover as editor, something he observed was a mistake by the publisher. Parr signed numerous copies of the book.

Complaints were first raised in May 2019 by Mercedes Baptiste Halliday, a student who received Butturini’s book as a gift. 

After expressing anger on social media — and receiving a shrugging person emoji from one of Parr’s assistants in response — Halliday later picketed Parr’s exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Parr apologised in a reply to a tweet in December 2019. Parr has now formally acknowledged his mistake after pressure was placed on Bristol Photo Festival to address the accusations of racism. “I would like to unreservedly apologise. That this spread escaped my notice is inexcusable. I am mortified that I have promoted this by the support I lent the book,” writes Parr in a statement published this week. 

Halliday also received a direct response from Parr in which he expresses regret for his mistake, pledges to donate his fee for the book to a charity of Halliday’s choice, and invited Halliday to come and meet with him and his team. Halliday declined stating that given the antagonistic response she received when raising the issue, she would not feel safe.

In his letter, Parr also stated that he would ask the publisher to cease sales.

The Guardian reports that photography students of the University of the West of England, Bristol, have canceled an end-of-year exhibition planned to take place at the Martin Parr Foundation.

Parr is also under scrutiny for having written the text for a book of photographs by photographer Txema Salvans who disguised himself as a road surveyor in order to covertly photograph sex workers — many of whom are vulnerable and subject to violence and identifiable in the photographs. Parr described this method of photographing “prostitutes” as a “cunning deception.”

Lead image by John Ramspott and used under Creative Commons.

The original version of this article stated that Parr was removed from his post as Artistic Director. Parr resigned from his role, offering the following statement:

“I felt my continued presence as artistic director would provide an unnecessary distraction from the wonderful work being exhibited by the festival artists and that stepping back was the best course of action for everyone. This protects the festival from the accusations of my detractors. I also felt assured that the festival's aim for a Creative Committee to be realised earlier than planned would be the preferable option.
“I am deeply embarrassed having overlooked a racist juxtaposition of images in my foreword to the reprint of the book ‘London’ by Gian Butturini. When this was brought to my attention, I publicly apologised and I have since requested the book be withdrawn from sale. My fee for writing the introduction will be donated to appropriate charities.
“Throughout my long career, I have supported under-represented and emerging photographers. The Martin Parr Foundation (MPF) is a charity that was set up to shine a light on photography, to give young and emerging photographers a platform, and to champion the work of artists from all backgrounds. Photography should be a place for everyone. These values matter greatly to me.”

Andy Day's picture

Andy Day is a British photographer and writer living in France. He began photographing parkour in 2003 and has been doing weird things in the city and elsewhere ever since. He's addicted to climbing and owns a fairly useless dog. He has an MA in Sociology & Photography which often makes him ponder what all of this really means.

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Ok, he had a spread that was not meant to be racist. People called him out, he apologized, so what now? I guess we just ruin the mans life and reputation. Yep thats the only option.
I hope the best for him. So tragic to lose everything over someone else's perceptions.

N.B. To all those that would tar and feather him: the tar goes on first and works better that way. Or is tarring and feathering now politically incorrect too? I can't keep up.

The tar is made from oil so that is out. The feathers aren't acceptable by vegans.

We could use soya margarine and ferns. Ferns are a national product and bio degrade... 😜

"Cancel culture" at its finest. If you're a white photographer, for the time being it's probably wise to steer very clear of photographing or being involved with photos of people of color. Or even talking about them. Stick to white people and their stories for now.

It's so sad to read this kind of character murder. He made a mistake - he tried to correct it. Shouldn't that be sufficient?
I'd like to inspect the critics their lives and their purity. Probably worthless copy/paste monsters...

"Halliday declined stating that given the antagonistic response she received when raising the issue, she would not feel safe."


A photo of a caged gorilla, next to a photo of an African American woman what does one have to do with the other?

There's a long history of white supremacists using gorilla comparisons and imagery to paint black people as subhuman.

I get it, I wasn't trying to appear naive, I have read accounts of people "buying" slaves and the slaves were regarded as pieces of equipment, it's a terrible dark place in our history. Suppose there were a photo of an African american male model showing a new line of formal wear, and on the next page a photo of a set of hand cuffs with a caption " if you can't do the time, don't do the crime" it might be taken thew same way, it seems we are going to be walking on egg shells for a while longer

Timothy Turner [Poe's Law]Aaagghhh! You presumed she is African-American despite the fact that it's a European book! You're some-kind-of-ist! [/Poe's Law]

What we need is a lot less bedwetters who get offended at everything, time to put on a dry pair of huggies.

Another clueless snowflake trying to make the cover of "Social Justice Warrior" magazine.

The juxtaposition of the images is an intentional choice and obviously racist. Par would have to have been negligent or ignorant of history to let this pass.

Well said Lee.

No, Travis. NOT obvious and NOT the only interpretation of the juxtaposition. Dogma and absolutes have NO place in art. I suspect your own poorly explored thoughts about race have compelled you to see racism where there is none much as the Rorschach ink blotch test is intended to reveal hidden personality traits that cause the subject to project their own beliefs onto the interpretation of the ink blotches.

Betty, I think you are doing the projecting, and what qualifies you to analyze what I may or may not see. Without text, this sequence is clearly racist, and I defer to Ms. Halliday on that point. Your white privilege is showing. Maybe you should do your own introspection on that.

So many ignorant tone deaf comments here. The juxtaposition of the two photos is glaringly racist, and not to distance himself from it, especially after it was first brought to his attention, speaks volumes as to his character. His Magnum status gives him a free ride?

He apologized when it was brought to him. What "distancing" did you expect?

First of all, he wrote the forward to the reissue in 2017, endorsing the contents. Then his people shrugged it off in May 2019, and an apology happened seven months later.

I'm black and I don't even think there is necessarily a hook here to hang him on. There are 'way too many people actually shooting to kill black people to get exercised about a layout that he was not responsible for creating, and may or may not have even seen in its final form.

And if he did, unless he was particularly very sensitive to the issue (and I would not blame a modern white Brit for not being sensitive to it), it comes nowhere near being a matter to demand the destruction of an otherwise harmless career.

When I was graduated from high school in a small town in Oklahoma back in the early 70s, an organization long known to be a Confederacy apologist group awarded me a scholarship.

The elderly white man who presented the scholarship at the graduation ceremony stood at the podium and said, "This is the first time we have awarded this scholarship to a colored boy."

The audience collectively gasped at his faux pas. Although I had declared myself "I'm Black and I'm proud" five years earlier, that didn't bother me. First, a lot of black people his age at that time still used "colored." Second...they were giving me money. I didn't figure it was his purpose to offend me at the same time.

And even if it were...they were giving me money.

what do you mean his "people" ? that's how Don Cherry a hockey legend got fired from his job of 30 something years, when he mentioned the world you "people" when referring to new immigrants in Canada. what a sad world we live in.

NOT glaringly racist - this diptych reads to me as an indictment of the way blacks were/are treated as less than human, NOT an endorsement of it. Think. THINK! There are many ways to "read" a photo and a layout. The most negative, racist interpretation is not the most likely in this situation. Shame on Mercedes for fabricating controversy and harming a respected, noble photographer, Mr. Parr, with her misdirected indignation.

Betty, I think you are doing the projecting, and what qualifies you to analyze what I may or may not see. Without text, this sequence is clearly racist, and I defer to Ms. Halliday on that point. Your white privilege is showing. Maybe you should do your own introspection on that.

Everything is Races these days. The breakfast cereal "Rice Krispies" which has 3 white kids on the package representing Snap, Crackle, Pop, is now considered Races. Even "Aunt Jemima" pancake mix is called Races because it has a black woman on the package. People need to grow-up. Things aren't always as it may seem.

Can't you be nice when correcting someone if they make a mistake rather than being so vulgar. Gosh you have such a potty mouth?

Sir, please refrain from such language without context or purpose. I'm certainly no prude and have used the words from time to time, but a list of foul language such as this seems unnecessary.

I believe he was replying to a recently banned poster, not using the language himself

Ah, my apologies. I did not see the other responses.

Yeah i think we can all collectively say we are glad to see the back of DIngus whatever he was called... i cant believe he lasted so long.

Shameful. I am new to the forum but pleased to see such vitriol is not tolerated, even if the response is slower than wished!

Yeah dont take the back end of this conversation as the status quo, most chat on here is pretty good.

Very pleased to hear this! And thank you for sharing.

Aha very good. Thank you for the clarification!

The book was done originally in 1969 by an Italian. This artistic choice could have just as easily been for another reason, When I first saw the picture, I considered it a statement about how the artist saw the condition and treatment of blacks in London. The impression was immediate. Not a statement that they were less than human, but a statement that they might as well be. So, I saw the opposite. The confined space, the hopeless expression all fed my interpretation. Where Ms. Halliday decrees it racist, I see it as a strong and damning commentary from an outsider on the condition of blacks in 1969 London. In which case it is a strong editorial choice and not unusual for a time when civil rights for blacks was at the fore of social discussion.

Spot on. We really don't know. And to get from seeing a book containing this photo, to labeling someone a 'racist' and wrecking his career, requires a desperate conceptual leap of a couple of light-years.

Here's what real racists look like:

Apparently we (the human race) all are descendants of some form of monkey or chimp right? So why is this racism? Why this sudden race to check each and every photo and find racism in everything?? If there was an asian, a caucasian on the left page would everyone jump on their toes and call it racism too?
I'd rather be compared to a gorilla than be compared to some idiot that nowadays finds racism in everything, gorillas are smart animals, smarter than many "wise guys" that float around and just want their 5 secs of fame because they found another racist photo.
I understand why Parr went and said these words, otherwise he would be trashed around as many are now, but for me it's very unfortunate that he did so.
Now apparently every white photographer is racist, well check Rwanda history from the 90's decade and their you'll find out some interesting form of racism against the very same race.... I'm not joking with Rwanda's tragic events during the 90's decade just put to evidence that racism is not putting a photo of a lady (black, white, yellow, red skinned) side by side with a gorilla..... I took Rwanda's case but there's plenty more stories like this one..... Blacks against blacks, whites against whites....

Aside from your infantile use of personal attacks and insults, why don't you actualy say what your problem is. The only contribution we get from you is childish behaviour, and you have as yet been unable to state your case or your position in relation to the OP. Otherwise we might be under the impession that the only racist on this platform is you.

So I take it that your problem isn't the racial discrimination discussed, but rather your hate crime.

Yes, it might be that... But one thing I have as granted where your brain should be there's only one big hole and your brain went downstairs for sure right right next to the ass, judging by the amount of sh....t you write down....

I know this is somewhat off-topic, but may I just thank the moderators of Fstoppers after that fiasco with one of our members who felt insults and disrespect is the preferred means of expression on this platform.

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