Martin Parr’s postcards from Milwaukee
Parr and ten other Magnum photographers capture beer city as part of their on-going US documentary project
When you picture Milwaukee, what do you see? The city is no Shanghai, yet nor is it another link in the rustbelt, having faired better than its easterly neighbours such as Cleveland, Detroit, and Flint, Michigan. So, when it comes to modern documentary photography, the Wisconsin conurbation doesn’t fit easily into any one movement. While it hasn't the gleaming modern metropolis you might see in an Andreas Gursky image, nor is it the kind of decrepit, post-industrial place you might see in the portfolio of someone like Camilo José Vergara.
So, what should we expect from Milwaukee Art Museum’s current exhibition, Postcards from America: Milwaukee? This is the first museum exhibition of photographs from Magnum’s ongoing Postcards from America project, initiated in 2011 by a group from the legendary photo agency.
They’ve shot in Rochester, New York, home of the moribund Kodak, and in Florida during the last presidential election. Now eleven photographers from the agency - Bruce Gilden, Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Martin Parr, Paolo Pellegrin, Mark Power, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Jacob Aue Sobol, Alec Soth, Zoe Strauss, and Donovan Wylie – turn their viewfinders on the Beer City, capturing frank, sensitive and thought-provoking images. Martin Parr continues his meditations on leisure, with visits to Milwaukee’s stadium and state fair. Belfast-born Donovan Wylie, dwells on the city’s roads, showing the kind of built environment that’s neither wholly grand, nor entirely new, neither run-down nor newly minted. Jim Goldberg issued an open call for Milwaukee's Best, shooting portraits of the city’s self-described best sausage makers, best cooks and happiest, best-adjusted person.
“From Donovan Wylie’s investigation of Wisconsin’s highway infrastructure, to Martin Parr’s playful look at the State Fair, the works featured in the exhibition reflect the artists’ individual interests and visions,” said Lisa Sutcliffe, curator of photography for at the museum.
Indeed, in a city across the world for its brewing – Miller is one of the city’s biggest employers – and its sitcoms – Happy Days was set there, this engaging, cliché-free collection of shots says much about America today as it does about the skills and on-going relevance of Magnum as a whole. You can flick through a Tumblr of images here, or visit the museum’s exhibition from now until 19 October.
Find out more about the show here. For a greater understanding of Magnum, take a look at the books we've produced with the agency; for more on Martin Parr buy our new monograph; and for a richer understanding of photography today, buy Photography Today.