Nobody knows better than Parr how difficult it is to get the necessary votes. In 1994, there wasn’t just lobbying, but a full-fledged campaign to keep Parr from becoming a full member. Just before the annual meeting, Philip Jones Griffiths wrote the following letter to his fellow members:
I have known Marin Parr for almost 20 years and during that time I have observed his career with interest. He is an unusual photographer in the sense that he has always shunned the values that Magnum was built on. Not for him any of our concerned ‘finger on the pulse of society’ humanistic photography. He preached against us and was bold enough to deride us in print while his career as an ‘art’ photographer mushroomed…When he applied for associate membership I pointed out that our acceptance of him into Magnum would be more than simply taking on another photographer. It would be the embracing of a sworn enemy whose meteoric rise in Magnum was closely linked with the moral climate of Thatcher’s rule. His penchant for kicking the victims of Tory violence cause me to describe his pictures as ‘fascistic’ … Today he wants to be a member. The vote will be a declaration of who we are and a statement of how we see ourselves. His membership would not be a proclamation of diversity but the rejection of those values that have given Magnum the status it has in the world today. Please don’t dismiss what I am saying as some kind of personality clash. Let me state that I have great respect for him as the dedicated enemy of everything I believe in and, I trust, what Magnum still believes in.
In an article entitled Mission Impossible? 60 Years of Magnum (in the current issue of Aperture), Gerry Badger writes that Parr received the necessary two-thirds majority by one vote. He also notes that Parr now is ironically one of Magnum’s senior members. Maybe this is why Badger is so intent on taking down Parr. Last week Badger sent me a letter describing his impressions of Parr at Magnum’s 60th Anniversary party. Badger asked me to post this letter on my blog in hopes, I assume, of having Parr’s membership revoked:
Off to New York for Magnum’s 60th anniversary party at the MoMA on July 21st, getting a rare taste of the Martin Parr lifestyle. There were two anniversary parties scheduled – the first, at the MoMA, was ‘exclusive’, but there was a later one for the plebs, to which I’d invited a friend of mine.
Anyway, come 6.30, we (we being the great and good of Magnum, and select hangers-on like me) all gathered in the shelter of the Museum’s 53rd Street entrance, just as a heavy downpour hit Manhattan. Then it was through to the Museum’s Sculpture Garden to hit the champagne, with various Magnum members (they know who they are) leading the charge. I swear one prominent photographer was downing his second glass and reaching for a third before I gratefully grabbed my first. You just cannot compete with Bob Capa’s heirs.
There can’t be many more spectacular places to have a party than the MoMA’s Sculpture Garden – a little oasis of calm and birch trees surrounded by spectacular skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan. But it was rather ruined because what looked like a rusty alien spaceship had crash landed in the middle of it. This turned out to be a Richard Serra sculpture – or ‘piece’ as they call it – part of an exhibition the Museum was holding of his work. I certainly hope it’s not permanent.
Actually I didn’t believe the Museum bullshit about it being a Richard Serra ‘piece.’ I’ve seen lots of these things around Manhattan in front of public buildings – sculptures my ass, they’re crash landed alien spaceships. There’s a conspiracy afoot – the authorities won’t admit that New York’s been under attack from alien spaceships, after 9/11 and all that. But at least the aliens seem to have had worse aim than Al Qeada – I never saw one that had actually hit a building, though this one had made a bit of a mess of the garden. Possibly Martin (from another planet) Parr had arrived in it.
All in all, it was quite a sedate party. Even Josef Koudelka was on his best behaviour in the severely angled, white walled ‘high temple of modernism.’ Though I thought I caught a glimpse of some unidentified male take a leak behind one of the birch trees. Considering the further threat of alien attack, the security seemed lamentably lax. The invitation card had stressed the party’s exclusivity and all that, but do you know who I saw there? Peter Galassi. I mean, who let him in?
There were speeches. The best came from Elliott Erwitt after all the others had finished. It was short, though not maybe so sweet. It’s nice to see so many old friends here, he said, most of whom we’ve fired at one time or another.
I had a miserable time. I spent much of it trying to avoid two people. First of all Alec Soth – I didn’t want to appear in his blog again. He apologised about the picture of me that he’d previously posted. That’s ok Alec, I said, it was such a crap picture you couldn’t make me out. Did you take it with a mobile phone camera or your usual 8 x 10? Funny I didn’t see you set up the view camera but I was drunk at the time. Soth backs off at this, claiming that the crap picture was taken by somebody else. I don’t think so. Let you the readers judge.
The other person to avoid was Martin Parr. As he put it, he was photographing a Magnum Annual Party for the first and last time – using a flash with a thing like a Styrofoam coffee cup on the end of it. My penile extension, he explained hopefully (but unsuccessfully) to any lady who passed by.
I mean if Magnum had to hire someone to do the party pictures, did it have to be Martin? He’s clearly not as successful as we all thought, if he needs to do birthday parties, Bar Mitzvahs and weddings. I sincerely hope the Magnum blogsite goes down before he has a chance to post. I mean, if Magnum wanted to hire a party photographer, why couldn’t they have selected a nice ‘concerned photographer’ like Philip Jones Griffiths or Ian Berry to do them – photographers who photograph you with dignity and humanism and make you look good – instead of the appallingly ‘cynical’ and ‘ironic’ Parr? Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus did enough pictures at the MoMA of people looking demented without Parr adding to them. All I can say is we could be thankful that Bruce Gilden didn’t have a camera on him. Well, I hope he didn’t.
Chucking out time at the MoMA was 9.30, by which time it was chucking it down in torrents again. We were all due to start the real party – the annual Magnum orgy of photography, drink and dancing – at the Jamirah Essex House Hotel, up on Central Park South. I had arranged to pick up my ‘date’ for the evening, fragrant New York photography dealer Deborah Bell, back at the entrance on East 53rd Street.
The rain had gotten even heavier, but on every street corner, umbrella vendors had appeared as if by magic. I was about to give $5 to one for an umbrella but Deborah (showing she is a true New Yorker though she’s originally from Minnesota) beat him down to $3, showing a tough side to her character that rather shocked – but also excited me.
When we got to Essex House, instead of the usual tinkly crap, the music playing in the lobby was a raucous Bessie Smith blues – something about pig’s feet and a bottle of beer – a good sign I thought.
And so it was – music wise anyway. The two function rooms given over to the party were heaving with people. There was a little dance floor at one end, a food buffet in the middle, and a bar down the other end.
Unfortunately, the layout of the room was so bad, food and drink so far divorced from each other, the area in between so heaving with humanity, that a desperate choice was called for. What to do? Go for the food first, or the drink? And do it while avoiding Parr – he was still snapping away like a maniac, knocking people over left and right with his ‘penile extension.’ Not to mention the crafty Soth, who was surveying the room with a benign smile fixed upon his face. Perhaps he’d been offered a toke or two, or was simply TOO DRUNK TO BLOG.
Knowing that the booze would never run out at a Magnum event, I suggested to Deborah that we eat first – a wise choice because no sooner had we modestly filled our plates than more hordes piled into the room and descended upon the buffet like vultures. Three minutes later, not a scrap of food remained upon the table. WHAT THE HELL WOULD PARR PHOTOGRAPH?
After eating our modest portions, Deborah and I moved towards the bar – carefully avoiding Parr and Soth – and gratefully helped ourselves to a couple of glasses of wine (that’s a couple each), before moving on to the dancefloor. The music was perfect for dancing – old Sun, Stax and Atlantic soul and R ’n B – so I was soon pulling out all my best moves, while Deborah showed she was no slouch when it came to shaking her tush.
Also seen on the dancefloor making some fancy moves (’scuse the name dropping) were David Hurn (best oldie), Susan Meiselas (best hot babe), and Philip-Lorca diCorcia (best Latin).
Unfortunately, all this down and dirty dancing attracted the manic Parr and his coffee cup flash, and he was soon flashing away in his usual cynical fashion, trying to make us all look like hopeless dancers. Then, while executing a particularly neat move, a double salsa with a twist, out of the corner of my eye I noticed Soth with laptop in hand, clearly in blog mode. Aaargh! Could I ever escape them?
After half a dozen dances, I suggested to Deborah that we adjourn for another drink, as long as we could avoid Parr and Soth. It was at that moment that DISASTER STRUCK THE PARTY!
A horrible rumour was running round the room, spreading like wildfire. The bar was closed due to. . . . due to (people could hardly bring themselves to say it) the fact that the BOOZE HAD RUN OUT! Guests shook their heads at each other in absolute disbelief and horror. The booze had run out! At a Magnum party! Bob Capa must be turning in his grave. What a way to end the festivities.
It had all been going so well, the party had just been warming up. The hotel had clearly seriously miscalculated the enormous thirst of the photographic community. There will undoubtedly be lawsuits following this, but there was nothing left for it. Disconsolate, boozeless, we trooped out of the hotel, Parr sloping off to download his pictures*, Soth to write his blog, and the rest of us into the dark, sultry Manhattan night.
* For interested techies, Martin Parr was using a Canon 5D digital camera, Fuji Reala film and this coffee cup flash thingy – but not necessarily at the same time or in that order.