Bodybuilders + Scotch eggs

Magnum photographer Olivia Arthur on photographing the people of Hull with Martin Parr
Art | 17 November 2017
Above:

G W Glenton’s fish shop. Billy Glenton. Hessle Road, Hull 2017 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

Top image: G W Glenton’s fish shop. Billy Glenton. Hessle Road, Hull 2017 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos.

Best known for the Humber Bridge, its cream-coloured phone boxes and The Deep aquarium, Hull has become the focus of a new exhibition by Magnum photographers Martin Parr and Olivia Arthur. Titled, Hull, Portrait of a City, the exhibition opens a discussion as to how we define culture, landscape and the people of the East Yorkshire city.

In his classic bold style Martin Parr has decided to capture the rich culinary landscape of the city, from classic fish and chips to more upmarket vendors appearing along the regenerated Fruit Market and Specialist attitudes, capturing daily life and the distinct attitudes of the city and its diversity.

In striking contrast, Olivia’s black and white photographs explore the youth culture of Hull, from Elvis impersonators to pet snakes, football, bodybuilders, young love and young families. Whilst working on the project Olivia travelled frequently to the city, building relationships with local people. enabling her to depict them in domestic and intimate environments. “[People] were really open and really positive and really happy to be part of the project. They were also proud to be part of a Hull project, proud of Hull and proud of the whole city culture and all the things that were going on,” the photographer tells us below.

GALLERY

Thalia Chin: How did you first get involved in photography?
Olivia Arthur: Well I originally studied Maths and I first got involved in photography when I was studying, working with the student newspaper. So I came to it, I guess through quite a journalistic point of view, so I got involved with the student newspaper and then took it from there basically.

Thalia: And how long have you been working on this particular series for?
Olivia: The period for me was relatively short, I spent around ten days to two weeks in Hull for this work.

Thalia: All of your photographs seem really domestic, you definitely get the sense that you have built relationships with your subjects. Is building intimate relationships a process that you usually go through when working on a series or was this very specific to this project?
Olivia: I think that it is something that I do anyway in my work in general. I suppose I shoot a lot in homes and building relationships with people is part of my work. This series in a way involved far more portraiture than a lot of my past work. So I usually build relationships and then shoot the documentary photography around someones home and their family. But this was more specifically portrait based, which in a way has a bit more formality to it and therefore is a slightly faster process because you are doing a formal portrait of them when you got there. So that gave me to opportunity to do so many portraits in what is not a huge amount of time.

Thalia: Where did you find your subjects?
Olivia: Well I went down various different routes, so quite a few through youth centres and some of the people the gallery already knew. Like this art group, I’m not sure what it’s called but some of the kids were from there. Some of them I also got in contact with through reading about them in the local newspaper, like the Elvis impersonator and the bodybuilders. I also worked with an assistant who was a young man from Hull who is actually in one of the pictures, he knew a lot of young people there so he was able to put me in touch with some people as well. So through a lot of different routes, I was trying to be as broad as possible.

Alfie Pearson, Hull, 2017 © Olivia Arthur / Magnum Photos

“I hope you get the same level of intimacy you would get from going into someone’s house and being in their personal space. “

Thalia: You can definitely see that in your photos, the amount of diversity in them is really powerful.                   Olivia:  It was very important to me to get quite a range, and I think there is quite a range of ages as well and backgrounds. That was quite important because otherwise it is quite easy to end up with just one, two or three sorts of people.

Thalia: What has this experience taught you about Hull?
Olivia: I had a really good experience in Hull, I was amazed at how friendly people were there and how open they were. The fact that I was able to do so much in a relatively short amount of time, because all the portraits were done in basically about ten days, is really down to the fact that people were really open and really positive and really happy to be part of the project. They were also proud to be part of a Hull project, proud of Hull and proud of the whole city culture and all the things that were going on. It was a really positive experience, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. Before I started I had never been there before.

Thalia: That must have been such a good first experience to be able to just jump in like that.
Olivia: Yes, I was able to do more than I thought I would be able to because of that sort of openness.

Thalia: What do you think can be gained from the medium of photography that you may not be able to gain from other art forms?
Olivia: It’s very immediate and it’s very democratic. I am looking forward to seeing the subjects come to the exhibition and see their pictures and that’s very unique for them. I think there is something in the simplicity of photography that makes that very effective.

Thalia:  I love the diversity of the poses and settings that your subjects are in, when you were working with them, was that something that was directed from you or was it more self-directed? 
Olivia: I would say it was quite collaborative. I like to let them choose if they have something specific in mind but mostly they don’t so I suggest the place or suggest something else and then they take it from there. It’s a kind of backwards and forwards. The bodybuilders, for example, had their own ideas because they are quite use to that sort of thing. The girl with the snake, I took several photographs of her in her bedroom and it was only later that she told me that she had a pet snake. I was nearly finished with the shoot and just going and then it was like, “Wow you have a pet snake.” [laughs]

Crisp & Fry. Spring Bank, Hull 2017 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

Thalia: What do you think audiences who come from outside of Hull will gain from this experience when they see the photographs?
Olivia: I hope you get the same level of intimacy you would get from going into someone’s house and being in their personal space. I hope that this will give people a sort of step into the city. So even though I am not from there and it’s not about me knowing the place well, what I can bring to it is the opportunity for people to share themselves with an audience in quite an intimate way. So even when it’s just a photo of somebody sitting in their bedroom it gives them a connection and ability to experience something closer.

Hull: Portrait of a City runs at the Humber Street Gallery until 31st December 2017.

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