Black Country Stories

05 August 2014

Exhibitions, Industry news

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, which will be showcased at The New Art Gallery Walsall, opening on 4 October, 2014.

Commissioned and produced by West Bromwich based Multistory, a leading community arts organisation, the project, which initially was only set to take place over the course of a year in Sandwell, was such a success with local audiences, that it was expanded to Walsall, Wolverhampton and Dudley, to include more areas and stories from across the Black Country.

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Sandwell Council and Arts Council England, 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.

Over the four-year period, Martin has created a photographic portrait and archive about many aspects of traditional and modern life in the Black Country. He has photographed tanneries, leather and spring factories, drop forge and ironmongery factories and made portraits of the people that keep these industries alive. He’s 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; sampled traditional Black Country foods from gray peas to faggots, and the many curry restaurants. He’s also photographed supermarkets, high streets, weddings and baptisms and the many street parties during the Royal Wedding and Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The four-year project culminates in a major photography exhibition at The New Art Gallery Walsall, opening on 4 October 2014 until 11 January 2015, that will feature 122 photographs as well as 400 archive images, oral histories and four documentary films made by Martin. The exhibition will also be shown at Wolverhampton Art Gallery in May, 2015.

The films enable Martin to tell more in-depth stories about some of the people and places he encountered.  They include: 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; and 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.

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.  

A preview for Black Country Stories will take place on Friday 3 October, 6 pm to 8 pm; all welcome. 

An early evening talk by Martin Parr will take place on Tuesday 11 November; please see The New Art Gallery Walsall website for details.

Martin Parr, Magnum photographer, said: “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. Despite the poor local economy, the spirit and determination of the community comes shining through.”

Emma Chetcuti, Director of Multistory, said: “Martin Parr has enabled Multistory to produce a major photographic exhibition and archive, oral histories and films about everyday life in the Black Country. 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.”