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Black Country stories told through the lens of photographer Martin Parr’s camera

  • Date: 14 August 2014
  • Area: Midlands
Norman Soper - Best pot leek, Sandwell Show by Martin Parr, Magnum Photos. Black Country Stories 2010

Norman Soper - Best pot leek at the Sandwell Show 2010. Credit: Photograph by Martin Parr, Magnum Photos, for Black Country Stories

A four-year project documenting everyday life in the Black Country comes to an end this year as renowned Magnum photographer, Martin Parr, completes his work on Black Country Stories.

The project, which has been commissioned and produced by West Bromwich based National portfolio organisation, Multistory, was initially set to take place over the course of a year in Sandwell. It was such a success with local audiences, however, that Martin extended his travels into Walsall, Wolverhampton and Dudley, collecting stories from across the whole of the Black Country.

Black Country Stories has taken Martin across the region visiting markets, temples, factories, social clubs, tea dances, dog training classes, summer fetes and many, many other places.

On his travels he has created a photographic portrait and archive about many aspects of traditional and modern life in the Black Country. Later this year, these images will go on display in two major photography exhibitions at The New Art Gallery Walsall in October 2014 and Wolverhampton Art Gallery in May 2015.

“I am looking forward to presenting back, to both Walsall and the wider Black Country, the fruits of my four year journey around this unique area,” said Martin Parr, Magnum photographer. “Despite the poor local economy, the spirit and determination of the community comes shining through.”

The exhibitions will feature 122 photographs as well as 400 archive images, oral histories and four documentary films made by Martin, which allow him to tell more in-depth stories about some of the people and places he encountered.

Over the last four years, Martin has photographed tanneries, leather and spring factories, drop forge and ironmongery factories and made portraits of the people that keep these industries alive.

He has also been to many places of worship that reflect the cultural diversity of the area; experienced a vibrant social scene in pubs, working men’s clubs and nightclubs; and sampled traditional Black Country foods from gray peas to faggots, as well as the many curry restaurants.

The project has also seen him photograph supermarkets, high streets, weddings, baptisms and the many street parties during the Royal Wedding and Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The four films he has created are:

  • Turkey & Tinsel, where we travel with JR Holyhead, a family-run, Willenhall-based, coach holiday company, on a November trip to the Midland Hotel in Weston super Mare, to celebrate Christmas with a group of Black Country pensioners.
  • Tudor Crystal, based in Stourbridge, the last traditional multi-furnace company producing 30% lead crystal within a traditional glassmaking cone.
  • Mark Goes to Mongolia, about pigeon breeder and auctioneer Mark Evans from Moxley and his trips to China and Inner Mongolia to sell his Black Country pigeons.
  • Teddy Gray’s Sweet Factory, the story of Edward Gray and Betty Guest, the brother and sister proprietors of Dudley-based traditional sweet making factory, famous for their Black Country herbal tablets.

“Martin has enabled Multistory to produce a major photographic exhibition and archive, oral histories and films about everyday life in the Black Country,” said Emma Chetcuti, Director, Multistory. "We hope that these stories will speak to local audiences, as the exhibition tours the Black Country, and continue to have value and meaning into the future, through the photographic archives gifted to our Black Country partners.”

Find out more

Black Country Stories is supported by investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Sandwell Council and Arts Council England.

The exhibiton opens at New Art Gallery Wallsall on 4 October 2014 until 11 January 2015.

To coincide with the launch of the exhibition, Multistory and Martin Parr are also releasing a limited edition photography book, produced in partnership with Dewi Lewis Publishing, that features images from the exhibition. The book will be available to purchase from 3 October. 

For information, visit Multistory’s website.