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The Chronicler of our Age - Interview with Martin Parr

5 years ago


“If I knew how to take a great photo, I would stop.” - Martin Parr


Martin parr, one of the best-known and most distinguished photographers of his generation, was awarded the 2017 Outstanding Contribution to Photography prize by the World Photography Organisation. Parr will collect his title at the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards ceremony held in London on Thursday 20 April.

We spoke to him at his studio in London:


Congratulations on receiving this year’s OCP. Tell us in more detail what we can expect to see at Somerset House in April

Well, it’s a mixture of some black and white work, some very early posters from something called ‘Signs of the Times’ I did in the early 90s, and a little mix of different images. I chose the selection together with the Curator of the exhibition, Zelda Cheatle.

You’ll also see some Morris Minors, from my time when I lived in Ireland in the early 80s. I was very aware of looking for these parts, and I kept seeing these abandoned Morris Minors, so I’d have a look at them, and then decided to photograph them. They had multiple uses, like Chicken huts and general storage, or they were just generally eroding away, slowly falling apart.

Those black and whites were some of my last, I did a little bit more after that. But those images were some of my parting shots to black and white.


How, why and when did you first start taking photos?

I was brought up in Surrey and my grandfather was a very keen amateur photographer, and I would stay with him when I was a teenager. He leant me a camera, processed film with me, made prints. And so at about the age of 14 I decided I wanted to be a photographer.

What are the most satisfying / challenging parts of being a Professor, and teaching photography more generally?

I still have a visiting professorship at Belfast. I don’t do many days but it’s good to keep in touch with a very good college. I go over and do seminars twice a year, so it keeps me on my toes, doing something I used to do alot more of in the earlier part of my career.

I think the most satisfying and the most challenging part is just responding to students works, seeing what they’re doing and trying to encourage them to push it forward, and make it more interesting, more resolved.


You recently produced the new idents - the sections between programmes - for the BBC. Tell us about this process

It was very much a collaboration, in terms of they had a concept and we worked around the ideas and discussed it in detail. It’s an ongoing commission, and I’ve got a whole host of new images to shoot. It’s something they approached me to do, and I was very happy to do it. And of course, you’ve never had work which will have a higher profile than this, so it really is huge in that sense.

You’ve been a big advocate for photo books. How do you see the format progressing?

Well of course it’s changed very dramatically in the last 20 years with print-on-demand and digital production, and anyone can make a book now without having to go to a publisher. That means there’s a lot more books and a lot more bad books. But it means that people can get their work out.


Tell us about your role as Magnum President. What does this involve day to day?

It’s my job to be the spearhead between the photographers and the management, so I work very closely with our CEO and we are trying to modernise Magnum, to make it very different.

We used to be a B2B company, but now we are going direct to our fans and supporters, so that’s made a huge difference. We are trying to make Magnum more relevant to how we all work nowadays.


You've said your best work is behind you. Do you really think that? 

Yes and no! Probably, but it doesn't stop me working. I still churn the work out - I can't help my self.

What excites you most about photography in 2017?  

What excites me most is the fact we still have dedicated photographers that want to get out into this crazy world we live in - that seems to be getting crazier every moment. I am not short of inspiration.