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.”