Martin Parr was born in 1952, in Epsom/Surrey. Following his early interests, he enrolled at Manchester Polytechnic in 1970 to study photography. During his studies – he remained at Polytechnic until 1973 – he participated in various photographic projects. Like Parr’s later work, these projects already devoted themselves to the photographic documentation of social conditions and structures. With Home Sweet Home (1973), he also entered the artistic space of installation, yet he did not continue working in this field. In 1994, Parr became a member of the renowned photo agency Magnum and, in 2004, was appointed Professor of Photography at the University of Wales, Newport. During the same year, he was also visiting director of the annual Rencontres D’Arles for which he organized an exhibition.
Parr is rightly called a critical photographic chronicler of the present. His gaze is directed at the unfamiliar, the unusual, sometimes at the abject. Since the 1970s, he has focused on overlooked facets of the everyday. He has done this with provocative and ironical black-and-white, later also with color photographs, often in series stretching over several years. His work captures people in unconventional situations, in specific group structures, and in specific places. Parr finds his sujets in those social realms that, like mass tourism (New Brighton, Merseyside, 1983 — 86), follow their own rules and occupy specific places. At first, he was mainly interested in the life of the English lower middle-class, a thematic complex that soon expanded into an international realm. Scenarios of everyday shopping, of taking the underground, or of lunch in private homes, situations at the check-in counter of an airport, or insights into a Call Center often appear snapshot-like or amateur-like. Parr’s pictures are idiosyncratic, detail-like, retouched, and sometimes blurred or overexposed. Moreover, Parr does not shy away from representing worn clichés and collective stereotypes, aspects that characterize his recent photographs of English society at the horse races (Ascot, 2003) or of the proud owner of a little cottage on an allotted garden plot (Germany, 2002).
Beyond taking his own photographs, Parr has also been a chronicler of everyday photography done by others. He has collected »boring postcards« next to works of photographer John Hindes as well as photographic portraits taken of himself during his extended travels abroad. As he has done with his own photo series, he published these collections in what are by now more than 20 conceptual photo books.
Recently, Parr has expanded his œuvre through films done, for example, on the basis of interview series which he again conducted at British resorts. These films are closely related to his photographic work. Yet with videos about the pop group »Pet Shop Boys,« they now sometimes also take on a more commercial character.
Since the early 1970s, Parr’s work has been shown at exhibitions thematizing aspects of contemporary photography. Examples are »Quelques Anglais« / »Some Englishmen« (1985), exhibited at the Paris Cenre Nationale de la Photographie, »A British View« (1988), shown at the Museum für Gestaltung Zurich, »Click Double Click« (2006), displayed at the Haus der Kunst, Munich. At the initiative of Barbican Art Gallery, a retrospective of his photographic work took place that was also shown at the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg, in 2006. With »ParrWorld,« shown in 2008, the Haus der Kunst, Munich, dedicated a comprehensive exhibition to Parr’s work.
Martin Parr lives and works in Bristol.
Martin Parr, Objects, London 2008
Phillips, S.: Martin Parr, Berlin, London 2007
Martin Parr: Mexico, London 2006
The photobook – a history. Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, London u.a. 2004
Williams, V.: Martin Parr, London 2002
Martin Parr: Ausst.-Kat. Deichtorhallen, hg. v. V. Williams, Hamburg 2003
Martin Parr – Autoportrait, London 2000
Martin Parr – Benidorm: Ausst.-Kat. Sprengel Museum, Hannover 1999