January 10, 2024
Culture & Music
Niccolò Lapo Latini, James Korhonen
Martin Parr is, like many pioneers, a scathing man with biting irony, but the coldness and detachment of the professional cannot hide an incredibly generous soul. Over 50 years of experience in his field, yet one thing is certain: since he first picked up a camera at the age of 13, he has continued to produce work that is innately British, iconic, and eternally recognisable, and in the world of art, originality is everything. “My definition of success is still shooting after 55 years of doing this,” he says.
With permanent collections in the Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou and the Museum of Modern Art, Martin is recognised globally for his poignant documentation of the Western world. His most prominent project, Last Resort (1986), captured the attention of all. Having recently closed his Only Human show held at the National Portrait Gallery – a series of photographs depicting a divided nation in a time of Brexit – he’s firmly cemented himself as one of the most prestigious and influential British photographers of our time.
When asked if he was predestined for photography and if he would have changed anything along the way, he admits, “I would not change a thing. I always hope for one of those iconic images which are so rare. Just stick to the plan, be consistent, and try to keep an interesting point of view. That’s always been the challenge!” He claims that “everybody has something.” His perspective is humanist, with a sense of humour, sometimes exaggerated, always acid. People appear in his photographs with their habits, their excesses, and their weaknesses.
He teaches photography as a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and is a member of Magnum, of which he was president. Photographer, traveller, relentless spectator who draws with his camera the best and the worst of our lives, and founder of Martin Parr Foundation, located in Bristol, that supports emerging, established, and overlooked photographers who have made and continue to make work focused on Britain and Ireland.
He’s the “Photo London Master of Photography 2023”, a living legend of contemporary photography. The photographer who more than anyone else has been able to showcase the Western world with an ironic gaze and unparalleled lucidity. There is this and much more in the shots and photographic books of Martin Parr, who confides to me that he has taken the “comedy” genre really seriously, explaining that “one can learn much more about the country where you live from a comedian than from a conference of sociologists.” I believe him, because he knows how to show us reality without the filter and burdens of rhetoric. And with more than 50 years of career behind him, he never ceases to follow and support the work of the younger generations, as a sign of faith in the future. “From a very early age I wanted to be a photographer. It was in my system and now looking back I’m pretty happy with life so far because I run a foundation that collects British and Irish work, and images taken here. Actually, for my wish list I would have vintage Robert Frank taken in the UK.”
Tokyo, Japan, 2000
“I would not change a thing. I always hope for one of those iconic images which are so rare. Just stick to the plan, be consistent, and try to keep an interesting point of view.” — Martin Parr
His advertising campaigns are also worth mentioning. Gucci in the lead, created by choosing people on the street as models to make fashion more credible. A deliberately down-to-earth option, in the name of anti-cliché. “Someone defines my photos as fictional: they are fictional because the use of flash exaggerates the result and shows something that the human eye could not perceive naturally. But there is never a desire to misrepresent the content, it is rather an interpretation: extracting the essence of an image serves to convey the sense of the story.”
Martin Parr represents a perfect mix of tradition and innovation. With regard to new technologies, he recalls with pleasure the old techniques and working methods of the 70s without being dismissive of the new. “I have great admiration for the new photographers coming along, but I’m still here. I don’t miss film, with all the chemicals. I love the fact you can shoot over 500 images on one card!” And to the question, whether he still feels like an ambitious person, he replies, “I am keen to get on, but it does not overtake me.
The question of Artificial Intelligence, more commonly known today as AI, is also discussed. “AI does not bother me; you cannot reproduce the quirks of real artists. It would never be convincing in any creative sector.”
Understandable, considering the cardinal element, the pivot, the main foundation of Martin Parr’s photography: the truth. Bizarre, raw, paradoxical, straightforward, and not in need of any kind of fiction or fictitious addition. The truth as human beings, the truth as a testimony to a changing world and us who change with it, shaping our being in constant evolution. Our truth today is that human imperfection cannot be replicated.
Opening at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA, 1998
Tokyo, Japan, 2000
Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2012
Mona Lisa, Louvre, Paris, France, 2012