A unique perspective - Martin Parr talks to Billingham about his extraordinary career and his forthcoming projects

Billingham Bags

Posted on December 13 2019

Legendary British photographer Martin Parr was born in Surrey in 1952 and was inspired to take up photography by his grandfather, George Parr. With a highly successful career spanning more than 40 years, Martin is recognised and respected for his innovative and humorous approach to documentary photography, capturing the idiosyncrasies of life within the UK and around the world. During that time, he has won countless awards, held hundreds of exhibitions globally, and published more than 100 books. Martin became a full member of the Magnum Photographic Cooperative in 1994, and held the position of president of Magnum Photos from 2013-2017. In Autumn 2017, the Martin Parr Foundation opened in Bristol, an organisation that supports and preserves the legacy of photographers who create important work focused on the British Isles. We spoke to Martin about the highlights of his career, his upcoming projects – and his Billingham bags.

 

 

Honey Rose Studio, Mexico City, Mexico, 2018  From the series ‘Autoportrait’.

Honey Rose Studio, Mexico City, Mexico, 2018  From the series ‘Autoportrait’. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

 

Martin, thank you for taking the time to speak to us. We’d like to start by asking about your childhood and the influence your grandfather had on your photography. What are your earliest memories of using a camera as a young boy?

I was brought up in Surrey and used to go and stay with my grandfather in Yorkshire. That was very exciting, travelling to a different place. There was a sense of community there that didn’t really exist in Surrey. Him being a very keen amateur photographer, he lent me a camera, and we went out shooting together, processed the film and made prints. By the age of about 13 or 14, I decided I wanted to be a photographer – and have been one ever since!

 

Apart from your grandfather, who do you feel has been the biggest inspiration to you, or has made the most powerful impact on your photography?

When Bill Jay came and gave a talk to us at Manchester Polytechnic in 1972 about Tony Ray-Jones, that was a big inspiration. It made me realise what was possible when photographing the English. Prior to that, I had been looking at magazines such as Creative Camera, seeing the work of Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank – the generation of photographers that emerged in the 60s in America who were so influential on me, and the whole later generation of photographers, in fact.

 

Can you tell us how being a member of Magnum Photos has influenced your work?

It’s very nice to part of this amazingly famous cooperative, and it’s a privilege to be a member of this. I wouldn’t say it has particularly influenced me. By the time I joined, I had quite a definite style already established. But I have many great friends at Magnum, we see each other regularly, and keep in touch. That sense of camaraderie is very important.

 

The extent of your portfolio is enormous. If you could pinpoint one single project that has stood out as a highlight or pivotal moment in your career, what would it be and why?

The one for me would probably be the Last Resort, when I moved from black and white to colour. That had a big impact and really launched my career beyond the UK. It was shown in Arles and in Germany, and launched me as an international photographer.

 

New Brighton, England, 1983-85 From 'The Last Resort'. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

New Brighton, England, 1983-85 From 'The Last Resort'. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

 

Most photographers have a personal favourite photograph. What would you consider to be the most notable or outstanding picture you’ve ever taken and why?

There isn’t one individual photograph I could choose. The pictures from the Last Resort still hold very well. When I get to the Pearly Gates, those are the ones I’d probably get out first!

 

New Brighton, England, 1983-85 From 'The Last Resort'. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

New Brighton, England, 1983-85 From 'The Last Resort'. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

 

Earlier this year, you exhibited your body of work entitled ‘Only Human’ at the National Portrait Gallery, which explores British identity and features some fascinating portraits of people from around the world. Can you tell us more about this project?

I held a retrospective in 2004, and this is really a catch-up time to look at the work I’ve done since, and to try to bring that all together to make sense of this 15 year period of shooting. It was a great privilege. It includes portraits of celebrities, as well as themes such as people dancing and the beach… themes that have emerged in my work in recent years.

 

Nice, France, 2015. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

Nice, France, 2015. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

 

Moving on to the practical side of photography, what is your preferred photographic equipment?

I’m using Canon equipment. I have a 5D and I update whenever they bring out a new model. The lenses are good, if a little heavy. They work and they produce a very good file. My main task is to make prints – and indeed to sell prints. I need that quality to be maintained.

 

We were thrilled to hear that Billinghams are your favourite bags. Which is your preferred Billingham product and why?

I have always used Billingham bags throughout my whole career. I have a big one and a small one, and I like to be able to get access to the equipment straight away, especially as I have flashes on the cameras. I can’t just put them on straps. I need to have that flash on board – and protected.

 

MARTIN PARR COLLECTION. Hong Kong. 2013. © Paul Yeung

Hong Kong, 2013 © Paul Yeung

 

You recently began using a Billingham Hadley Pro 2020. What are your thoughts on this bag?

I like it! It’s slightly slimmer than the ones I’ve been using previously, so that means it doesn’t stick out as far when carrying it, so it’s a good design for me.

 

What are the most exciting developments in the world of photography for you?

I love the fact that photography is so democratic. Everyone can be a photographer. Platforms like Instagram give all of us photographers a chance to share our work and to find followers without having to find a publisher or go to a gallery. It’s a very positive development. Photography is becoming democratised, if you like.

 

Where do you think equipment will be heading in the future?

Well, I think manufacturers will continue to make positive developments. Equipment will get smaller and lighter, and mirrorless will be the way to go, of course. It’s all good news, really! All cameras are pretty fantastic now.

 

What advice would you give to young people thinking about a career in photography today?

Photographers need to get more involved, more passionate, closer. There are no short cuts in photography. It appears to be a very easy, straightforward art form to work in, but what you get out really depends on the effort you put in. Photographers can be very lazy, and it’s very easy to come up with images, but they may not be any good, or may not say much, or show the passion and relationship you have to the world out there. You need to isolate and define what it is that interests you in the world and then talk about that through your photography.

 

Can you tell us about any forthcoming projects?

We have two exhibitions currently on in Aberdeen and Cardiff, and we are working on a new show and book about my images from Ireland, for Autumn 2020. Please keep an eye on https://www.martinparr.com/ for further details.

 

You established the Martin Parr Foundation in 2017 to support photographers who create important work focused on the British Isles. Can you tell us more about this?

People should come and see the shows. We’re open 4 days a week from 11am to 6pm. The current exhibition ‘The English Seen by Tony Ray-Jones’ is very popular.  People can also subscribe to our newsletter, to keep in touch with what we’re doing. Come and visit!

 

Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol, England, 2019. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol, England, 2019. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

 

 

What is your biggest passion or hobby outside photography?

I like to go for a walk or something like that, but basically I’m doing my hobby and I’m paid to do it. What a result!

 

Martin Parr outside the Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol, England, 2017. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

 Martin Parr outside the Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol, England, 2017. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

 

 

Information on Martin Parr can be found at:

Martin Parr web site: https://www.martinparr.com/

Martin Parr Foundation: https://www.martinparrfoundation.org/

Magnum Photos profile: https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/martin-parr/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/martinparrofficial/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/martinparrstudio/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/parrstudio

 

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