Martin Parr

Posted: July 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: art sur canapé: exhibition reviews | Tags: , , | No Comments »

The reason why I do this collecting is because it is part of how I operate as a photographer: taking photographs is putting together ideas, putting together subjects…” Martin Parr (May 2009)

British documentary photographer, photojournalist and collector born in Epsom, Surrey, UK, in 1952.
He studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic from 1970 to 1973.
In 1994 he became a full member of Magnum Photographic Corporation.
He was appointed professor of photography in 2004 at the University of Wales Newport campus.
He won a large amount of prizes and awards.
Martin Parr will be curating the 2010 Photo Biennal in Brighton.

Jeu de Paume is currently showing an important exhibition dedicated to Martin Parr. Parrworld, that is to say Planète Parr in French, consists of his latest projects, as well as books and objects from his own collection.


Untitled, Mexico, 2002-2004

The show opens with memorabilia and postcards. The everyday objects gathered by Martin Parr evoke the reign of Margaret Thatcher, the Spice Girls or 9/11, all these events or phenomena are now part of the collective memory. Parr says he always tries to find the most trivial objects. The oldest postcards in Parr’s collection were printed at the end of 19th century. Postcards were always an economical way to produce imagery, whatever commercial or tourist.
Then the photography section with British social documentary shows Parr’s favourite themes. Are also displayed international photographers that have influenced him or which he feels a strong connection with.
Three films are screened upstairs: Vivian’s Hotel (1998), Think of England (1999) and It’s nice up North (2005). Then the Luxury series is displayed in two rooms. From 2004 to 2006 Martin Parr travelled everywhere attending fashion shows, luxury shops, art fairs or horse races in cities like Dubai or Moscow. This project is a study of this international jet set who is depicted by Parr with the same approach, that is to say with a lot of humour.

from Luxury, Ascot, England, 2003

The shows ends with the Guardian Cities Project. In 2008 the daily newspaper The Guardian commissioned Martin Parr to do a report on ten UK towns: Belfast, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. Each town was featured in a supplement distributed free with the newspaper, comprising a text by Martin Parr evoking his memories and personal impressions, and colour photographs of the cities and the people.
The Small World series (1986-2005) is dedicated to mass tourism. It is set in a suitable way in the Tuileries Gardens, highly tourist area in Paris.


Small world series in the Tuileries Gardens, picture by the author

Since I did not interview Mr. Parr myself, here are following a few excerpts of Q & A taken on his website:

How did you start your career as a photographer?
I first got interested in photography when I was a teenager and went to visit my grandfather near Bradford. He was a keen amateur photographer and he lent me a camera and we would go out together shooting. We would come back, process the films and make prints and ever since this time I have always wanted to be a photographer.

What photographers were you influenced by in these early days?
Before college I had seen the work of Bill Brandt and Cartier-Bresson, as well as seeing copies of Creative Camera magazine with images by (Robert) Frank, (Lee) Friedlander and (Gary) Winogrand. However it was while I was at college that Bill Jay came round and showed the work of Tony Ray-Jones and this for me was a real moment of inspiration.

When and why did you change from black and white to colour?
I did do some colour within the Home Sweet Home project in the early 70s, but it wasn’t until 1982 when I moved back from Ireland that took to colour in a serious way. This was sparked off by seeing the colour work emerge from the US with photographers such as Joel Meyerowitz, William Eggleston and Stephen Shore. I had also encountered the postcards of John Hinde when I worked at Butlins in the early 70s and the bright satured colour of these had a big impact on me.

What cameras do you use?
For the 35mm it is a Nikon 60mm macro lens combined with a SB29 ring flash. This gives a shadow on both sides of the lens ad it is like a portable studio light…
For the early black and white work, it was a Leica M3 with a Makina Plaubel with a 55mm lens. I later bought a standard lens Plaubel and more recently Mamiya 7s.
I now own a small 7mgb Sony digital and a Canon 5D.

How do you achieve these bright colours?
I use amateur film, currently Fuji 400 Superior for the 6/7 cm camera and Agfa Ultra or Fuji 100 asa film for the ring flash and macro lens. This combined with flash gives very high colour saturation, there is no Photoshop used.

Do you think your work is exploitative?
I think that all photography involving people has an element of exploitation, and therefore I am no exception. However it would be a very sad world if photographers were not allowed to photograph in public places. I often think of what I photograph as a soap opera where I am waiting for the right cast to fall into place. In more recent years I have photographed much closer where bits of people and food become part of the big picture, and one advantage of this is that it means people are less recognisable.

Whose work do you admire from contemporary photographers?
I am a great fan of the work that emerged from the Becher school, indeed these photographers changed the way in which the art world viewed photography from a marginal activity to being a central player, and I guess we all benefit from this. I also like contemporaries such as Lorca diCorcia, Paul Shambroom, Joan Fontcuberta and many photographers from Japan. There are many of my colleagues in Magnum I admire like Bruce Gilden, Alec Soth, Gilles Peres and Jim Golberg.

Why did you start to make TV?
One thing I had noticed over the years was the dialogue I often had with my subjects was very entertaining, so I welcomed the chance to incorporate this into part of my work. You can see clips from some of these films on the website. I also did a video for the Pet Shop Boys in 2002.

April 2009.

Planète Parr: The Martin Parr Collection is at Jeu de Paume from 30 June until 27 September 2009

Official site of Martin Parr:

Magnum Photos:

from Autoportraits series. He is peering through the gaping jaws of a painted shark in Benidorm, Spain

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