Task 2 – Key Histories

Part 1:

Gainsborough Vs Parr

As a group we were tasked with comparing a photographic image and its relationship to a painting. The two artists in question, Thomas Gainsborough and Martin Parr….

Thomas Gainsborough

Thomas Gainsborough (born in Sudbury, Suffolk, 1727) was an English portrait and landscape painter, draughtsman and printmaker. Gainsborough was allowed to leave home at the age of 13, to study art in London, after impressing his father with drawing and painting skills. In 1946, after marrying Margaret Burr, his work mostly consisting of landscape paintings started to suffer, so this prompted him to move back to Sudbury and focus on painting portraits. He would continue painting portraits until his death in 1788.


Self-Portrait (1759)

Techniques used:

He was noted for the speed with which he applied paint and he mainly worked from observational memory of nature and humanity.

While Gainsborough sold some of his landscapes, he found portraiture more lucrative. At the height of his career, from the 1760s onwards, the demands for his portraits were such that he suffered from overwork. Unlike many other painters of the time, Gainsborough was an avid draughtsman. He was always an experimental artist, using a wide range of drawing or printmaking techniques. In his later years, Gainsborough expanded his subject – matter with some mythological and ‘fancy’ pictures with a stronger narrative content. Gainsborough’s painting method was technically sound and his works have survived relatively well. It is his painting style, particularly his fluent brushwork, as well as his ‘naturalism’ that have been so admired by later generations.

Using his feathery brush for his mature work and his rich sense of colour, he has contributed to a enduring popularity of his portraits.  The art historian Michael Rosenthal describes his work as ‘one of the most the technically proficient and most experimental artists of his time’.

Martin Parr

Martin Parr (born in Epsom, Surrey, 1952) is a British documentary photographer, photo journalist and photo book collector. Parr says his influence of photography comes from his grandfather, George Parr, who was an amateur photographer. In 1994, 21 years after studying at Manchester Polytechnic, Parr became a member of Magnum Photos. Parr has had around 40 solo photo books published and has featured in around 80 exhibitions worldwide, including his own international touring exhibition ‘Parr World’. Parr is still taking photographs today and working on two big shows that are set to be shown in early 2016.

Martin Parr at the Media Space opening at the Science Museum, London, September 2013.

Martin Parr stands in sunlight following the Press View of Only in England at The Media Space at the Science Museum, London, 20 September 2013, Graham Harrison

 Techniques used:

Martin Parr is a documentary photographer, a colour photographer who uses a lot of flash to bring out the rich colours in the image. Parr didn’t just break with previous documentary work because of his use of color film. His visual attitude is miles away from the humanist photographers who dominated the genre from the ’50s onwards. It was reported that when Henri Cartier-Bresson saw Parr’s exhibition in 1995 he said “You are from a completely different planet to me”. Where photographers such as Bresson, attempted to convey a certain nobility in the human spirit, Parr’s pictures appeal to our voyeurism, his in your face style brings the tackiness and banality of his subjects so close you can almost smell the cheap suntan lotion.


The image in relation to the painting….

The painting below is by Thomas Gainsborough


Mr & Mrs Andrews (1750)

The photograph below is by Martin Parr


Signs of the times (1991)


Similarities and Differences:

Through analysing both images we have found similarities between the painting by Thomas Gainsborough and the photograph from Martin Parr; the male stood and the female seated; the poses are similar but Martin Parr has decided to shoot his photograph in a suburban home in London, where as Gainsborough decided to paint his in an outside environment. However, the composition is quite similar as Parr has captured a couple within their homely environment, as did Gainsborough; a theme of standing and sitting, the male role being the more dominant in both; the dress code, it is quite conservative and is protective to their home and identity.

Influence from Painting to Photograph

Personally I only see a slight connection or influence Thomas Gainsborough may have  had towards Martin Parr’s work, other than the obvious, husband and wife set in a homely situation, slightly awkward distancing from one subject to the other, no emotion or expression shown.

I suppose Parr has laid out his image composition in a similar mundane way, having the male subject stood and the female seated.

Part 2: Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present


Ignace-Henri-Théodore Fantin-Latour, ‘The Rosy Wealth of June’, 1886.

flowers 2

Ori Gersht, ‘Blow up: Untitled 5’, 2007.
LightJet print mounted on aluminium. 248 x 188 x 6 cm (framed)
Collection of Robin and Peter Arkus, USA.

sculpture         tattoo

             James Anderson (?), ‘The Laocoön Group’, 1855-65.                    Richard Learoyd, ‘Man with Octopus Tattoo II’, 2011.
Gold-toned albumen print. 42 x 29.4 cm                                  Unique Ilfochrome photograph. 148.6 x 125.7 cm

This exhibition ‘explores early photography from the mid-19th Century and the most exciting contemporary photographs alongside historical painting’. Through looking at the images you can clearly see the comparisons between photographs. Looking at the above images of flowers you can see the similarity, one maybe in a naturalistic form and the other an abstract however the use of colour, composition and shape are all similar within the images. ‘Blow Up: Untitled 5’ is clearly derived from ‘The Rosy Wealth of June’ which demonstrates how contemporary photographers have drawn inspiration from their artist counterparts. The similarities of composition of images depict how historical counterparts create, with the materials available to them at the time, a clear composition demonstrating a clear message to the viewer. Whilst contemporary photographers may push the boundaries more I feel this is just a sign of the times and humanity wanting to see more, something of which they haven’t seen before not a sign of the historical artists ability. The level of similarity shows the photographer and artist appealing to their target audience. Also above you can see the shape used within the sculpture is similar to that within ‘Man with Octopus Tattoo II’ further finalising the significance of fine art within modern photography. This therefore clearly shows how the exhibition ‘takes a provocative look at how photographers use fine art traditions…to explore and justify the possibilities of their art’.