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Martin Parr

Martin Parr  is a British documentary photographer, photojournalist and photobook collector. He is known for his photographic projects that take an intimate, satirical and anthropological look at aspects of modern life, in particular documenting the social classes of England, and more broadly the wealth of the Western world.

Martin Parr (born 1952) trained in photography at Manchester Polytechnic. Described in the past as Margaret Thatcher’s favourite  photographer, Parr caused a stir when he tried to join Magnum Photos because many Magnum photographers felt that Parr’s work was voyeuristic, titillating and meaningless. Parr was eventually accepted at Magnum in 1994 and went on to become one of the leading authorities on photography in the UK.

He has a characteristic photography style and approach. Parr works mainly in colour, using fill-in flash to over-light the scene, causing a frozen moment in time to be even more false yet far more ‘real’. His approach is direct and opportunistic. He doesn’t ask permission and if someone sees that he is photographing them he will continue on the basis that it’s his job to photograph them, record their reaction, etc.  His work is quirky and opportunistic. He makes no bones about the latter; invited to an event, he takes the opportunity to produce images that will lead to further projects.

See Tate Modern overview and links to Parr’s work.
Tate video overview of his approach to British documentary photography
Listen to Martin Parr talking about his images and practice:

!! Insert sketchlog pages of analysis of his images and annotated flatpans of his photobooks.

Martin Parr  is a British documentary photographer, photojournalist and photobook collector. He is known for his photographic projects that take an intimate, satirical and anthropological look at aspects of modern life, in particular documenting the social classes of England, and more broadly the wealth of the Western world.

Martin Parr (born 1952) trained in photography at Manchester Polytechnic. Described in the past as Margaret Thatcher’s favourite  photographer, Parr caused a stir when he tried to join Magnum Photos because many Magnum photographers felt that Parr’s work was voyeuristic, titillating and meaningless. Parr was eventually accepted at Magnum in 1994 and went on to become one of the leading authorities on photography in the UK.

He has a characteristic photography style and approach. Parr works mainly in colour, using fill-in flash to over-light the scene, causing a frozen moment in time to be even more false yet far more ‘real’. His approach is direct and opportunistic. He doesn’t ask permission and if someone sees that he is photographing them he will continue on the basis that it’s his job to photograph them, record their reaction, etc.  His work is quirky and opportunistic. He makes no bones about the latter; invited to an event, he takes the opportunity to produce images that will lead to further projects.

See Tate Modern overview and links to Parr’s work.
Tate video overview of his approach to British documentary photography
Listen to Martin Parr talking about his images and practice:

Technique: Getting the Parr ‘feel’

  • Use your camera flash or a flash gun to balance the daylight. You need to take light readings from the ambient light and then set the flash gun to produce a small amount of flash – not enough to turn the scene into night – running the camera at a slower speed than the flash would normally synch at.
  • Getting the flash /ambient light balance right is the key to the technical side of the whole look.
  • This is the camera’s reaction under normal circumstances. A slower shutter speed than the recommended flash setting may help a lot.
  • This will work very differently for a range of cameras and you may need individual support and advice for this relative to your personal camera equipment.
  • Ensure that the colour is bright and reflects the nature of Martin Parr’s work. How does this lighting effect change the nature of your images?

Photobooks

!! To significantly update with notes to the videos and flatpan analysis in my sketchlog of photobooks I own: The Last Resport and Think of England

Parr has had around 40 solo photobooks published including: 

  • The Last Resort (1983–1985)
  • The Cost of Living (1987–1989)
  •  Small World (1987–1994)
  •  Common Sense (1995–1999).
  • Think of England (1999)
  • The Human Condition

Other projects:

  • Rural communities (1975–1982)A recent project in the suburbs of Paris depicts ordinary life within a diverse, mainly immigrant, community.
  • St Moritz series shows the rich at play in a way that only people who work there would normally get to see.
  • Luxury – a recent Martin Parr project where he looks at the rich and their pastimes.

Martin Parr as collector and curator

Parr has edited three volumes of his collections of postcards:

  • Boring Postcards (1999)
  • Boring Postcards USA (2000)
  • Langweilige Postkarten (2001).

The subjects within Boring Postcards are what we judge to be mundane or prosaic, such as motorways, service stations, tower blocks, school and other modernist municipal buildings – structures that we take for granted and might even consider to be ‘eyesores’. They weren’t necessarily photographed for their beauty in any traditional sense, but because of their novelty value as photographic subjects. [Many of the images in the UK edition are attributed to the Frith photographic company.] They are in fact often quite unusual and remarkably intriguing.

The Parrworld (2008) show exhibited some of Parr’s extensive collection of kitsch souvenirs and other disparate paraphernalia: a watches with pictures of Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, bubblegum pop pin-up wallpaper. He compares photography to collecting: the world is out there for the having.

!! Photobook collections and his discussions of these.