Salient Words from Martin Parr


(screen grab from Martin Parr’s website © M Parr)

Our great chronicler of consumer culture was another big highlight of the LOOK3 festival of the photograph for me. Love him or hate him, I believe M. Parr to be a great advocate of photography. At LOOK3, he also proved himself to be an articulate speaker whose vision has method to its madness. While I don’t think words are necessary to understanding a photograph, they often augment, and I find it maddening when photographers can not speak engagingly about their work. Here, in no particular order are some nuggets from ParrWorld:
1. I disguise my images with humor. I am a concerned photographer. I feel a responsibility to not photograph nostalgia. To make it palatable you bring in irony to make it susceptible.
(for my own part, I call this the Mary Poppins/spoonful of sugar method – a method I attempt to employ in some of my own work, most notably Consumed & Off-Season)
2. You’ve got to change and push forward – you can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. Commercially yes, but not the work you do for yourself.
3. Photographers are inspired by books, [and the book as an object is ever more critical today]

Truth be told, I will never love any of his work more than The Last Resort, but I appreciate his worldview and his obsession with collecting.  When pursuing some of my projects, I often think of myself as a detective, locating clues that will unravel a larger mystery.  Parr follows a similar avenue, looking at his picture taking as a kind of collecting.

OK, I lost the rest of my notes, but I’ll leave you with the one nugget I was able to claim from the train-wreck that was Gilles Peress conversation:
“As a viewer you process the image and make it yours.”

and another one I just found online, when searching for his non-existent website (who needs one when you have Magnum?)

“I don’t care so much anymore about ‘good photography’; I am gathering evidence for history”

Well that modality may work for a photographer emeritus like G. Peress, but I strive to both gather evidence for history and am very concerned with making a good photograph (whether or not I am succesful or not I will leave it to you to decide since you are the viewer processing the image and making it yours).  I guess it just depends on how you define a good photo and your POV.  I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive, history making and good photography.  Comments, pro and dissenting, as always are welcome.


2 thoughts on “Salient Words from Martin Parr

  1. re: Parr’s comment on change, it is the difference in writing between Hemingway and Faulkner. One changed and one did not. History judges. Still, it seems, those who do not abandon a style of shooting but maintain it–think every recognizable famous photographer–has grown through repetition. Abandoning something for change is the hallmark of the amateur in many ways. But the great photographers (and I hate to use that word) have been consistent. OK. I’m open to challenge as I’ve made one of those totalizing comments.

    I do like his “gathering evidence for history” statement without reservation, though. I, too, believe “good photography” belongs in quotes.


  2. I think consistency is different from change. For me, there are many established master photographers who have been essentially taking the same picture all their careers – this bores and depresses me. I don’t think that the ones who do change are abandoning something for the sake of change, just trying different things, because they too are bored by repetition. Sometimes it is succesful and sometimes it is not. I think Teddy Roosevelt said, “Far better is it to try great things and fail then live in the twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” (I paraphrase). Of course, most people are not comfortable with change, and a lot are uncomfortable with independent thinking, so those who work the same trope over and over again are rewarded. But we know. Thanks for your insightful comment.


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