Show Hide image

Suited and booted: Martin Parr’s chronicles of the Great White Male

Martin Parr’s vision is simultaneously a celebration of the nuances of tribal behaviour and a gimlet-eyed stab at pretension and earnestness.

When I first encountered Martin Parr’s work in the 1980s I felt I had found an artist who articulated something about being British that I had never seen before, at once affectionate and teasing. I adored his cheeky records of dying working-class communities and scabrous portrayals of Thatcherite consumers. His way of looking at the world is now part of my way of looking at the world. He has achieved that Holy Grail of photography, a visual voice so distinctive that it has become an archetype. Parr-esque is now a burgeoning genre. His vision is simultaneously a celebration of the nuances of tribal behaviour and a gimlet-eyed stab at pretension and earnestness. He is an ideal chronicler of the Great White Male partly because he is one. He understands every detail of the code. He can turn the most nondescript character into a rich grotesque. He makes us laugh at the rich and powerful quaffing champagne and feel empathy with the underdog alone in his staffroom. No one can hide from the lens of Martin Parr – especially not Default Man. 

By Grayson Perry


Shrewsbury School, Shropshire (2010)
Martin Parr writes: Recently, I’ve been shooting in schools: the pupils’ noise can be briefly escaped from in the staffroom.
Karen Country Club, Nairobi (2010)
The British left Kenya more than 50 years ago, but pockets of colonial life are still to be found because, unlike in Zimbabwe, the whites have been allowed to stay and flourish. The Karen club in the capital is a good example of this colonial hangover.
Henley, Oxfordshire (2013)
The sanctuary of the Stewards’ Enclosure at Henley Royal Regatta. This is probably the most genuine part of “the season”, as it hasn’t been taken over by the marketing people. It really is like stepping back to the 1950s – and the bonus for me is that rowing blazers are very photogenic.
Cambridge United FC (2005)
This rather lowly football club, in League Two, is more accessible than the Premier League, where photographers are virtually banned.
Polo at Sandbanks, Dorset (2013) 
The British have great skill in attending sporting fixtures and not actually seeing the game or match in question.
George Osborne, London (2007)
The Chancellor of the Exchequer before he made the top job. This photo shoot for GQ magazine was highly orchestrated – but the PR person did not spot me shooting the last-minute tie preparations.
Royal Highland Show, Edinburgh (2011)
Some visitors to this summer fixture in the Scottish capital are, by nature, posh. Here, the crowd watches a parade. In the cattle pens, the atmosphere and personnel are very different: farmers from across Scotland come to this national event.
Art Basel, Miami Beach (2008)
This annual Florida art fair, which launched in 2002, is always a terrific place to take photos. There are never-ending possibilities for combining audience and art. Habitués of the art world are always entertaining.
Butler School (2001)
In deepest suburban London, a school grooms young men to become butlers. On this educational trip, they venture to Dunhill in the West End to learn the finer details of what makes a good smoke.
Salaryman, Tokyo (2000)
Japan’s salarymen are well known for being hard workers and enthusiastic drinkers and socialisers. Here, one takes a well-earned nap in the spring sunshine of the city. The Japanese are skilled at falling asleep anywhere and programming their waking to resume duties.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Grayson Perry guest edit

Show Hide image

Leader: Mark Carney — a rock star banker feels the heat

Rather than mutual buck-passing, politicians and central bankers must collaborate in good faith.

On 24 June, the day after the EU referendum, the United Kingdom resembled a leaderless state. David Cameron promptly resigned as prime minister after his humiliating defeat. His closest ally, George Osborne, retreated to the safety and silence of the Treasury. Labour descended into open warfare; meanwhile, the leaders of the Leave campaign appeared terrified by the challenge confronting them and were already plotting and scheming against one another.

The government had not planned for Brexit, and so one of the few remaining sources of authority was the independent Bank of England. Its Canadian governor, the former Goldman Sachs banker Mark Carney, provided calm by announcing that Threadneedle Street had performed “extensive contingency planning” and would not “hesitate to take additional measures”. A month later, the Bank cut interest rates to a ­record low of 0.25 per cent and announced an additional £60bn of quantitative easing (QE). Both measures helped to avert the threat of an immediate recession by stimulating growth and employment.

Since then the Bank of England governor, who this week gave evidence on monetary policy to the economic affairs committee at the House of Lords, has become a favoured target of Brexiteers and former politicians. Michael Gove has compared Mr Carney to a vainglorious Chinese emperor and chided him for his lack of “humility”. William Hague has accused the Bank of having “lost the plot” and has questioned its future independence. Nigel Lawson has called for Mr Carney to resign, declaring that he has “behaved disgracefully”.

At no point since the Bank achieved independence under the New Labour government in 1997 has it attracted such opprobrium. For politicians faced with the risk, and the reality, of economic instability, Mr Carney and his colleagues are an easy target. However, they are the wrong one.

The consequences of loose monetary policy are not wholly benign. Ultra-low rates and QE have widened inequality by enriching asset-holders, while punishing savers. Yet the economy’s sustained weakness as well as poor productivity have necessitated such action. As Mr Osborne consistently recognised when he was chancellor, monetary activism was the inevitable corollary of fiscal conservatism. Without the Bank’s interventionism, government austerity would have had even harsher consequences.

The new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has rightly taken the opportunity to “reset” fiscal policy. He has abandoned Mr Osborne’s absurd target of seeking to achieve a budget surplus by 2020 and has promised new infrastructure investment in his Autumn Statement on 23 November.

After years of over-reliance on monetary stimulus, a rebalancing is, in our view, necessary. Squeezed living standards (inflation is forecast to reach 3 per cent next year, given the collapse in the value of sterling) and anaemic growth are best addressed through government action rather than a premature rise in interest rates. Though UK gilt yields have risen in recent weeks, borrowing costs remain at near-record lows. Mr Hammond should not hesitate to borrow to invest, as Keynesians have long argued.

The Bank of England is far from infallible, of course. In recent years, its growth and employment forecasts have proved overly pessimistic. Mr Carney’s immediate predecessor, Mervyn King, was too slow to cut rates at the start of the financial crisis and was ill-prepared for the recession that followed. Central bankers across the developed world, most notably the former Federal Reserve head Alan Greenspan, have too often been treated as seers beyond criticism. Their reputations have suffered as a consequence.

Yet the principle of central bank independence remains one worthy of defence. Labour’s 1997 decision ended the manipulation of interest rates by opportunistic politicians and enhanced economic stability. Although the Bank’s mandate is determined by ministers, it must be free to set monetary policy without fear of interference. The challenge of delivering Brexit is the greatest any British government has faced since 1945. Rather than mutual buck-passing, politicians and central bankers must collaborate in good faith on this epic task.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage