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. His major projects have been rural communities (1975-'82), The Last Resort (1983 ‐ '85), The Cost of Living (1987 ‐ '89), Small World (1987 ‐ '94) and Common Sense (1995 ‐ '99). His interest in photography spurred from his grandfather who was also a photographer. He is popular for his projects that critically analyze modern life especially in the provinces and suburbs of England.
Since 1994, Parr has been a member of Magnum Photos. He has had around 40 solo photobooks published, and featured in around 80 exhibitions worldwide - including the international touring exhibition ParrWorld, and a retrospective at the Barbican Arts Centre, London, in 2002. Parr's photographic style is close up with saturated colours. The proximity allows 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. The result of his technique for his book Signs of the Times: A Portrait of the Nation's Tastes (1992) has been said to leave viewers with ambiguous emotional reactions, unsure whether to laugh or cry.
Born in Epsom, Surrey, Parr wanted to become a documentary photographer from the age of fourteen. He cites his grandfather, George Parr, an amateur photographer and fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, as an early influence. He married Susan Mitchell and they have one child, Ellen Parr.
Parr has said of his photography:
The fundamental thing I'm exploring constantly is the difference between the mythology of the place and the reality of it. ... Remember I make serious photographs disguised as entertainment. That's part of my mantra. I make the pictures acceptable in order to find the audience but deep down there is actually a lot going on that's not sharply written in your face. If you want to read it you can read it.
Parr's aesthetic is close up, through use of a macro lens, and with saturated colour, a result of either the type of film and/or use of a ring flash. This allows 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. The result of his technique for his book Signs of the Times: A Portrait of the Nation's Tastes (1992) has been said to leave viewers with ambiguous emotional reactions, unsure whether to laugh or cry.
At Manchester Polytechnic, he studied photography from 1970 to 1973. From the mid 1970s, Parr began his career as a professional photographer and he also taught the subject. He became recognized for two black and white photography projects, Bad Weather in 1982 and A Fair Day in 1984. Then he switched to color film- resulting in The Last Resort, a photography assignment praised by Gerry Badger (writer and curator). It changed the basic mode of expression in photography, developing a new tone in documentary photography.
Around 50 books by Martin Parr have been published and he was featured in almost 80 exhibitions internationally. His retrospective exhibition was illustrated in the Month of Photography Asia in Singapore, 2007. A year later, at Manchester Metropolitan university, he was accredited as an Honorary Doctor of Arts.
Martin Parr’s photography is anthropological and sardonic. The advancements in photographic technology and techniques, such as digital photography, have all allowed him to study his subjects with an microscopic eye in their respective environments. New tools have assisted Parr in displaying his talents and ideas in a more playful way.
Other than this, Martin Parr has an interest in collecting photographs, postcards and other items from pop culture. He has published many photo-books. In The Photobook: A History, he covered 1,000 examples of photo-books since the 19th century till today. It took eight years to complete this project.
Parr collaborated with Nick Barker between 1990 to 1992 to make Signs of the Times. By 1997, he joined with Mosaic Films and started to produce his own TV documentaries. Since 1994, Parr has been affiliated with Magnum Photos – with offices in Paris, London, Tokyo and New York, it is an international photographic corporation.
Recently, Parr has become obsessed with filmmaking. He has started doing fashion and commercial photography. He was selected to be the photography professor at the University of Wales. Then for Recontres D’Artles, he was the Guest Artistic Director in 2004. Parr was given the Erich Saloon Prize award after two years. He was the guest curator at the New York Photo Festival in 2008. In the same year, his object collection was exhibited in Mucich Parrworld at Haus be Kunst. In an acknowledgement for his contribution to modern photography, he was given the Baume et Mercier award at PhotoEspana. The Royal Photographic Society awarded Martin Parr with the Centenary Medal, inclusive of an honorary fellowship.
Parr is an observer, he has showed ordinary people behaving in different ways. He has used humor in reflecting what he understands from his surroundings. His pictures mirror people, culture and occasions of a society. Some images represent many cultures and others point out specific ways of life. His photographs often raise a question mark and he leaves it for the viewers to think in any way they want. Martin Parr, is no doubt a satirist who entertains people through his photographs instead of trying to change their point of view.