“First priority is to make an entertaining picture.” | Photographer Martin Parr | Louisiana Channel

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Legendary British documentary photographer Martin Parr is known for his innovative, often satirical imagery portraying modern life in the wealthy western world. Here he looks back at 50 years of work. “If you look at the world, what can you do, it is funny, and if you don’t laugh, you cry”, he says.

“We all know we are doomed because of climate change, so the only way to make daily life possible is to try and find the humor in the world we see and try to show the contradictions. Do I like Britain, yes and no. How can I show that in an image? That’s what I try and do. One picture that shows both sides to the argument.”

Martin Parr began his career shooting in black and white documenting society as a “celebration of life,” he says, and when he moved to color in the mid-8oies, his work became a “critique of society,” he says. He calls his photography his “personal interpretation of what I see in front of me.” “My pictures are fictional because I often use flash, not something you would see with a human eye.”

As an example, Parr mentions his series ‘The Last Resort: Photographs of New Brighton ‘from 1983-86, which is today considered one of his most important works. “It is my connection to New Brighton through photography that ultimately makes that work. It was one of these moments where everything came together the right way. I think every artist ultimately has one project they are going to be known for. It is an exception if they have more than one, and this is my one. And it is not to say everything I have done since then is rubbish; it is not going to have the same impact. I was young, angry, and raw in my thirties. It was the right time, the right place.”

“My first priorities are trying to make an entertaining picture in a bright color, this is a language almost stolen from commercial photography, and at the same time, I want to draw people in, and if they want, they can read the politics behind it, it is not shut down peoples throat, but it is there, ultimately I do have a responsibility to intrigue people and bring people in, and then different things going on, if they want to discover it.”

Martin Parr has been portraying the British for decades. “When I think about my relationship to the UK, it’s a mixed one. I like the place, but at the same time, I’m really depressed in particular because of my compatriot’s voting to leave the EU, something I am very pissed off about. How do I get these ultimately contradictory feelings into a photograph, that’s the challenge, and that’s one of the things I attempt to do. I almost use the act of photographing my own country as a form of therapy where I can explore these ends of thinking if you like. The ambiguity and the contradictions can be read if someone chooses to in the image.

“I am probably more popular in France than in the UK, and probably the French enjoy me being mischievous with the British, and that ties in with their mentality. If I had a show in Paris, there would probably go more people seeing it than I would in London. ”

In 2021 Parr got diagnosed with myeloma, a form of cancer, “so I am now getting treatment for this, but it has meant that this year (in 2021), I haven’t really been active as a photographer, which is very frustrating for me”. “I don’t know if my shooting days are over yet and if I have to think about being a disabled photographer mounting my camera on the scooter doing different kinds of work, who knows.”

Martin Parr was born in Surrey, United Kingdom, in 1952. He studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic from 1970 to 1973. As a documentary photographer, Martin Parr has worked on numerous photographic projects. He has developed an international reputation for his innovative imagery, his oblique approach to social documentary, and his contribution to photographic culture within the UK and abroad. In 1994 he became a full member of Magnum Photographic Cooperative. The Martin Parr Foundation, founded in 2014, opened premises in his hometown of Bristol in 2017. It houses his archive, his collection of British and Irish photography by other photographers, and a gallery. Martin Parr’s work is held in prominent institutions like the Tate, The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Christian Lund interviewed Martin Parr at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol in December 2021.

Camera: Kyle Stevenson
Edit: Johan von Bülow
Produced by Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2022

Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet, C.L. Davids Fond og Samling and Fritz Hansen

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