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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62 Comments

Ken Flanagan's picture

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.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

We can also mob him even more and show how frustrated we are over anything that give us a chance to be frustrated.

Tundrus Photo's picture

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.

John Ohle's picture

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... 😜

Timothy Roper's picture

"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.

Mutley Dastardly's picture

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...

Adriano Brigante's picture

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

Seriously?

Timothy Turner's picture

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

Alex Reiff's picture

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

Timothy Turner's picture

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

Kirk Darling's picture

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]

Timothy Turner's picture

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

jim hughes's picture

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

Travis Dickinson's picture

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.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I think to automatically assume this can be flawed. Mistakes happen and sometimes we can miss the wood for the trees. (I once filmed a pastor with a sign behind his head nd clearly in focus which said "idiot," and didn't notice it once

To determine if this was intentionally racist, we'd have to examine Par's track record and see if there was a pattern. So I'd ask, how aware of Par's work and history are you aware of when making this assumption. If there is form, then yes we may make this assumption. If there is not, then mistakes happen.

I'll say it again, we sometimes miss the wood for the trees. I know I've done it enough - until someone points out the bleedin' obvious and then I can see it straight away.

I have an example which I won't share here because it may offend some, but when I point it out to friends they can't believe a high profile and £400,000 design campaign could miss such an obvious (and possibly hilarious) atrocity. It's a simple logo, but once seen with a simple trigger word, you can never see it any other way again.

We look at this page layout and of course it is obvious in the context of this discussion. But amazingly things like this get overlooked when other considerations are being made in the design.

In fairness, I do hate it when the word "obviously" is trotted out without evidence or substance - so help me out here.

Let's not draw immediate conclusions without a bit of proper research. And then we'll draw accurate conclusions - which surely is how society works best...?

Betty Lane's picture

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.

Deleted Account's picture

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.

Deleted Account's picture

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?

Kirk Darling's picture

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

Deleted Account's picture

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.

Kirk Darling's picture

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.

tony cao's picture

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.

Betty Lane's picture

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.

Deleted Account's picture

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.

Cool Cat's picture

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.

Cool Cat's picture

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?

Lee Christiansen's picture

Whether you have a point or not, use of would language and insults only go to reduce the value of your rant to the point where it becomes ignored by those who may otherwise listen.

Bad language and insults is the last resort of people who cannot articulate. So if you have a valid point, make it with a civilised tongue and manner - and we can listen.

Go on... I'm sure it is within you if you try.

Lee Christiansen's picture

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

What a dingus...

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