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.”

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Lee Christiansen's picture

And there we have it folks. The true nature of Dingus.

What a dingus...

Lee Christiansen's picture

Just using my "big boy" words. That's ok to do here isn't it. I mean, you're setting the standard so I'm just aiming to communicate on a level that suits you.

No insult... you're acting like a dingus, (a term we have here in the UK - not sure about your end of the world), and if the cap fits, then wear it.

I must admit, I did enjoy your wordy response earlier. Your online thesaurus must be worn out. But remember, big words need style and rhythm. But good try. It made a peasant difference to some of your more usual choices of phrase. Certainly getting better at this. Smiley face and 5 stars for effort. :)

Lee Christiansen's picture

EDIT: The idiot I replied to has been banned, so I have deleted my quality retort... :)

Andrew Mackauley's picture

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.

Stuart Carver's picture

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

Andrew Mackauley's picture

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

Stuart Carver's picture

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.

Andrew Mackauley's picture

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

Stuart Carver's picture

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

Andrew Mackauley's picture

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

Lee Christiansen's picture

It was actually a reply to a foul mouthed individual. Alas although his remarks were deleted, the comments in reference to them were not - hence the apparent lack of context.

But I've deleted this particular comment to keep things cleaner here. (Glad he has gone).

Andrew Mackauley's picture

Aha very good. Thank you for the clarification!

Lawrence Jones's picture

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.

jim hughes's picture

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:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/16th_Street_Baptist_Church_bombing

Lee Christiansen's picture

Interesting Lawrence. I was actually considering the same thing myself, but you beat me to it.

Unfortunately it seems easier to jump to conclusions and assume all sorts of things. Accusations are easy. Understanding is harder.

We don't know the full story here, but it seems many will judge based on not much more than a headline. One of the biggest problems we have with social media and fleeting information on forums.

Paulo Mendonça's picture

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....

Vladimir Vcelar's picture

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.

Vladimir Vcelar's picture

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

Paulo Mendonça's picture

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....

Vladimir Vcelar's picture

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.

Jay Clulow's picture

Wouldn't someone who isn't racist do this unwillingly?

Paulo Macedo's picture

I believe that the still sane people living in the US, should leave. And since Europe or at least western Europe is going down the same drain pipe, I will move to the more conservative eastern bloc countries.

David Pavlich's picture

You know you've swerved into the fact that Western Civilization is consuming itself. The forces that would love to see the Western Culture fizzle are waking up every morning, shaking their heads, and laughing.

Betty Lane's picture

Mr. Parr likely made an innocent mistake. Just because the wheel squeaks doesn't mean you have to grease it. You can look at the person, the situation, and use logic, reason, judgement to formulate your own opinion and measured response. And my opinion is that Mercedes Baptiste Halliday, in refusing to meet with Mr. Parr, after his unqualified apology is the opposite of productive, healthy dialogue. Her militant approach is gorilla in nature and ironic in that. She should, now, apologize for justifying the harm she has done to Mr. Parr as some sort of moral crusade. No progress is made by vilifying people for human foibles. Mercedes, if you want to sink your teeth into someone with a demonstrable track record of selfish, racist, tone-deaf behaviour, point your ire in the direction of Trump, not Mr. Parr, the latter of whom has no such record.

Martin Van Londen's picture

It’s not like this ended his career. He’s just not the artistic director of this festival any more.

He did make a mistake, I’m sure he’s not a bad person, but it makes a lot of sense to have someone in that position that is more aware of the world.

But yeah go a head and be pissed off about the whole thing... if that’s how you want to spend your time.

T Scarb's picture

Whatever you do... do not look at the college yearbook of VA Governor Ralph "Coonman" Northam...

tony cao's picture

if a white man beats up a black man, that's considered racist and assault
if a black man beats up a whiteman, that's considered assault
if a black man beats up a black man, that's considered neighborhood dispute
if a white man beats up a white man, that's called a fight

anthony marsh's picture

In regard to the first sentence,it will also be a "hate crime".

Dave Hollis's picture

I am astonished just how slovenly this been reported everywhere.

I took the trouble to go to the site of the " Gian Butturini associazione" to look up the position of the association.

It turns out that the juxtaposition was deliberate and had a completely different intent from what Halliday thought it had: In the preface to the book, which no one mentions, it is explained by the photographer himself: it states (translated by Google Translate): “ I photographed a black woman, closed in a transparent cage; she sold tickets for the subway: an indifferent prisoner, an immobile island, out of time in the midst of the waves of humanity that flowed by and mixed and separated around her prison of ice and solitude “.

Hopefully I can get a copy of the book so I can read the original text.

Incidentally, destroying books has a very ugly history ...

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