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Behind Olivia Arthur and Martin Parr’s show, Hull, Portrait of a City


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

A new exhibition opening next week at Humber Street Gallery will see Magnum photographers Olivia Arthur and Martin Parr open a discussion as to how we define the culture, landscape and people of Hull. The exhibition entitled Hull, Portrait of a City presents the commissioned work by both photographers split between two large galleries to highlight two very different opinions and interpretations of the city. Martin Parr chose to document Hull’s rich culinary scene in his familiar witty and colourful way whereas Olivia Arthur focussed on the creativity of its young people through a series of formal portraits.

The commission was fairly open and London-based Olivia, who has recently begun working on more traditional, formal portraiture to document where the UK is going as a nation, chose this format to present her narrative of the city. Her black and white photographs explore the youth culture of Hull, from Elvis impersonators to pet snakes, footballers to teenage relationships and young families. Having never been to the city prior to starting the project, the photos present a very honest impression of the location based on the relationships she formed during her time spent there. “I was amazed by how friendly all the people I met were and I did end up with a really positive feeling about the place,” says Olivia. The portraits will be exhibited alongside vitrines full of images of the streets, objects and details of the area as a way to establish context but also counterbalance the portraits.

The choice to shoot 5×4 black and white photos was very deliberate on Olivia’s part as a means of slowing her process down and being more careful about the photos she was taking. “I have to change the film after every single shot so it all becomes a bit more considered, and I am really enjoying that at the moment,” she told us. This formality also benefits the sitter: “[it’s] something that they appreciate and it means that they take the process seriously. Most people have never seen a camera like this before and it makes them feel special to be photographed on it. I think that ends up coming across in the pictures.” The result is a varied and real portrait of the youth of Hull through a small selection of its community. It reflects their individuality and identity as well as their aspirations for the future.

The exhibition opens 13 October and will run until 31 December 2017 as part of a 365 day programme of cultural events and creativity inspired by the city and told to the world: Hull UK City of Culture 2017.


Alicia Abbott, Hull, 2017 © Olivia Arthur / Magnum Photos


Ross and Ryan, Hull, 2017 © Olivia Arthur / Magnum Photos


Freya Hough, Hull, 2017 © Olivia Arthur / Magnum Photos


B Boy Jocky, Hull 2017 © Olivia Arthur / Magnum Photos


Yankee’s Diner. Hessle Road, Hull, 2017 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos


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


Stack it High. Hessle Road. Hull 2017 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

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

Alism’s Delicatessen. Hessle Road, Hull 2017 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos