You will either love or hate Martin Parr’s work – it has oddly, given its content, been the target of a lot of controversy. When going through the process to join Magnum, Philip Jones Griffiths (a former president of the agency) said “Let me state that I have great respect for him as the dedicated enemy of everything I believe in and, I trust, what Magnum still believes in.” Not fun to hear from one of the leaders of your new rep. However, the very thing he’s criticized for – his observations on contemporary western culture, is exactly what I love about his work!
The Big Deal
Parr’s work is filled with sharp wit and insight that cuts through our culture and reveals it’s ridiculous nature and insecurities. Joining Magnum – an agency full of great war and classic documentary photographers may have seemed odd to many, but he approached his subject matter with the same seriousness and dedication as any other Magnum photographer. He often lifts the veil of high society and the upper middle class, showing that underneath the glitz and glamour are just regular people with built up facades that fall apart on closer scrutiny.
Life in Brief
Born in the United Kingdom in 1952, Parr first picked up photography from his grandfather. In the early 70s he studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic. Having traditionally shot black and white, he switched to colour film in 1980s and began to develop his signature style. However, it wasn’t until the 90s when he started shooting with a macro lens and ring flash that he developed the work he is now famous for.
In 1994 he became a full-fledged member of Magnum (by a very narrow vote) and in 2002 a large retrospective of Parr’s work was put together and toured Europe for 5 years. Parr is also a prolific producer of photo books and his list of accomplishments is far too long for this post. Luckily there is a new documentary coming out this June on Martin Parr called Hot Spots: Martin Parr in the American South which I’m really looking forward to!
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