Martin Parr (born 24 May 1952) is a British documentary photographer, photojournalist and photobook collector. He is known for his photographic projects that take a critical look at aspects of modern life, in particular provincial and suburban life in England. He is a member of Magnum Photos.
Born in Epsom, Surrey, Parr wanted to become a documentary photographer from the age of fourteen, and cites his grandfather, an amateur photographer, as an early influence. From 1970 to 1973, he studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic now Manchester Metropolitan University. He married Susan Mitchell in 1980 and is father of a daughter, Ellen Parr (born 1986).
Parr began work as a professional photographer and has subsequently taught photography intermittently from the mid-1970s. He was first recognised for his black-and-white photography in the north of England, Bad Weather (1982) and A Fair Day (1984), but switched to colour photography in 1984. The resulting work, Last Resort: Photographs of New Brighton, was published in 1986. Since 1994, Parr has been a member of Magnum Photos. Recent work has included a collaboration with designer Paul Smith in Ilford, capturing people wearing Smith’s Autumn/Winter 2007 collection. In 2008, he was made an Honorary Doctor of Arts at Manchester Metropolitan University in recognition for his ongoing contribution to photography and to Manchester Metropolitan University’s School of Art.
Besides being a photographer, Parr is a keen collector of postcards, photographs, oranges and various other items, and many of his collections have been used as the basis for publications. Since the 1970s, Parr has collected and publicised the garish postcards made between the 1950s and 1970s by John Hinde and his team of photographers. The images made by Hinde and his team are a key influence on Parr’s colour photography.
As an admirer of this medium he has published several photobooks as well as a work about photobooks. The Photobook: A History (in two volumes) covers more than 1,000 examples of photobooks from the 19th century through to the present day. The work was a collaboration with the critic Gerry Badger which took eight years to complete.
Parr’s first contact with the medium of film was his collaboration with Nick Barker from 1990-1992, taking pictures to accompany Barker’s film Signs of the Times. In 1997, Parr began producing his own television documentaries with Mosaic Film.
He was cameraman on the film, It’s Nice Up North with comedian Graham Fellows as his character John Shuttleworth. The film is a comic documentary filmed over several years in Shetland and was released in 2006.
Parr’s approach to documentary photography is intimate, anthropological and satirical. Macro lenses, ring flash, high-saturation colour film, and since it became an easier format to work in, digital photography, all allow him to put his subjects “under the microscope” in their own environment, giving them space to expose their lives and values in ways that often involve inadvertent humour.For example, to create his book Signs of the Times: A Portrait of the Nation’s Tastes. (1992), Parr entered ordinary people’s homes and took pictures of the mundane aspects of his hosts’ lives, combining the images with quotes from his subjects to bring viewers uncomfortably close to them. The result of Parr’s technique has been said to leave viewers with ambiguous emotional reactions, unsure whether to laugh or cry.
Parr has had almost 50 books published, and featured in around 80 exhibitions worldwide – including an exhibition at the Barbican Arts Centre, London. In 2007, his retrospective exhibition was selected to be the main show of Month of Photography Asia in Singapore.
Quote: “With photography, I like to create fiction out of reality. I try and do this by taking society’s natural prejudice and giving this a twist.”
Martin Parr joined Magnum Photos in 1988 and became a full Member in 1994.
Biography from the Magnum Photos website.
Martin Parr was born in Epsom, Surrey. As a boy, his interest in photography was encouraged by his grandfather George Parr, himself a keen amateur photographer.
Parr studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic from 1970 to 1973. To support his career as a freelance photographer, he took on various teaching assignments between 1975 and the early 1990s. At the beginning of the 1980s his work aimed to mirror the lifestyle of ordinary British people, reflecting the social decline and distress of the working class during the era of Margaret Thatcher. He earned an international reputation for his oblique approach to social documentary, and for innovative imagery. In 1994 he became a member of Magnum after much heated debate over his provocative photographic style.
For Parr, the moral atrophy and preposterousness of our daily lives means we can only find salvation through adopting a certain sense of humor. The banality, boredom and lack of meaning of modern times are portrayed in works such as Bored Couples and Common Sense.
In 2002 Phaidon published the monograph Martin Parr. A large retrospective of Parr’s work was initiated by the Barbican Art Gallery in London, and has since been shown in the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris and the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg.
Parr was appointed Professor of Photography in 2004 at the University of Wales, and was Guest Artistic Director for Rencontres d’Arles in the same year. In recent years, he has developed an interest in film-making, and has started to use his photography in different contexts, such as fashion and advertising.