John Myers is back with new book called Looking at the Overlooked – a good title for a photographer who specialises in images of the unremarkable, and who himself nearly fell from photographic history. Working in Britain’s post-industrial Midlands from 1973-1981, Myers created an archive of the unspectacular that attracted attention at the time but then lay undisturbed for 30 years until a chance meeting with a curator. A solo show at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery followed in 2011, kick-starting a comprehensive reappraisal at his work that’s resulted in more solo shows and several publications.
Looking at the Overlooked is published by RBB Photobooks, which also published a collection of Myer’s portraits earlier this year. But where The Portraits focused in on pictures of people, Looking at the Overlooked is a glorious compendium of “the claustrophobia of the suburban landscape in the 1970s”. Focusing in on substations, shops, houses, televisions, and so-called “landscapes without incident” – or as Myers puts it, “boring photographs” – the images are all recorded with a deadpan aesthetic that’s won Myers comparisons to the celebrated New Topographics movement in the US.
Would you want Martin Parr to take your portrait? You might say its a brave soul who goes in front of his penetrating lens, but it’s part of a portfolio of benefits the Martin Parr Foundation is launching in its Membership Scheme.
Parr set up the Bristol-based Foundation in 2014 to house his archive, but in October 2017 it opened to the public in a purpose-built space, offering free access to much more – a rolling programme of exhibitions, a large photobook library, and a growing collection of prints. Parr’s used the opportunity to hone in on British and Irish photographers, as well as work taken in the British Isles by others, and put the focus on their documentary work – an area which he believes is still underrated.
“The term ‘Britishness’ has changed so much over the last ten years, I don’t really know what it means anymore to say ‘I’m British,’” observes Scottish photographer Niall McDiarmid, who has spent almost a decade photographing people in the street across Britain. In 2011 he started work on his latest series, Town to Town, which has just been published as a book and which will be shown at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, UK from 31 January-12 May. Initially focussing on London, it soon expanded beyond the capital city and ended up covering 200 towns, tracing a journey around Britain and its diverse inhabitants.
London-based collectors Claire and James Hyman have donated 125 photographs to the Yale Center for British Art, gifting key works by leading figures in British photographic history – including Bill Brandt, Bert Hardy, Roger Mayne, Tony Ray-Jones, Martin Parr, Chris Killip and Anna Fox – to the 44-year-old institution in New Haven in the US. It’s a move that could be interpreted as a damning indictment of UK institutions’ commitment to collecting British photography – particularly as, the last time BJP caught up with James Hyman (our May 2015 issue), he said building such collections has been “left to private individuals, and it shouldn’t have been”. In the same interview Hyman also singled out Birmingham Library and its curator of photography collections Peter James for praise – yet in the intervening time, both the photography archive and James’ job have fallen victim to funding cuts. But Hyman says the donation should be viewed in a positive light as evidence of the growing interest in British photography abroad – an interest which may spark more commitment in the UK.
Martin Parr has found a permanent home for the foundation he set up in 2014, giving visitors access to his archive and to his formidable collection. “I’ve been very lucky,” he told BJP’s Gemma Padley. “I have secured a very good living from doing this, and so the foundation is a great way to feed some of that back into the system.”