Martin Parr for Photography on a Postcard

“Find the extraordinary in the ordinary”- Martin Parr

Fortaleza, Brazil, 2008
From the series 'Autoportrait'
© Martin Parr Collection / Magnum Photos

Martin Parr is arguably one of the best and most important photographers of all time. His documentary photography and photojournalism takes anthropological and satirical looks into aspects of modern life, in particular documenting the social classes of England. His major projects have been The Last Resort (1983–85), The Cost of Living (1987–89), Small World (1987–94) and Common Sense (1995–99).

Martin is obsessive in his approach, and has taken thousands of photographs over his career.  He thinks of his work in terms of projects, stages and sets rather than individual pictures. When asked what his favourite photograph is in an interview, he responded that it was a ridiculous question because photographs individually did not finish their complete story, they exist within projects. Perhaps this method lends itself to how saturated with narrative Martin's photographs are. Some photojournalists look for 'that' moment, where things lock into place and present an idea. But Martin's work always seems to be suggestive of an understanding of the zeitgeist, capturing an era or a period of time and it's ascension into new forms of modern life. 

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

In his series The Last Resort (1983-85), Martin photographs summer time in New Brighton, a seaside resort in Wallasey, England. There is an unsettling balance struck in this series in particular that Martin has become known for. Both amusing and sad, comedy and tragedy, known and estranged, these photos represent a form of 'Britishness' that is hard to describe in words. Britain's coastlines are lined with beaches, arcades and chip shops. They sit at the furthest points from the British capital, and face into the European unknown, almost taking on the feeling of liminal spaces, like sunny voids. Predominantly working class, these places become the communal sphere at summer time and once you know it, you find there is tremendous heart in these little places like New Brighton.

Martin himself was born in Epsom, studied in Manchester Polytechnic and moved to Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, so his connection and understanding of working class Britishness is a personal one. It is because of this that his works are so humorous, he, like us, knows these characters and the nostalgic familiarity tickles us. The narratives may include a chip shop filled with hungry kids or the moody ice cream lady. These characters have played a part in our lives and they reemerge in our memory when we looks at Martin's photographs. For this reason the existentialism that produces the satire of the piece is balanced with heart and meaning that produces the humour.

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

Martin says that he likes to "find the extraordinary in the ordinary"- it may be a freak moment that creates poetry in the compositions of mundane scenes, or a sense of recognition for the characters that make up the stories of our own lives. Martin's work achieves an affection for British working class life; that even though they are amongst the most forgotten in the British classist society, there is a lot of heart and a sense of just 'getting on with it', doing whatever you can to have a good time and enjoy family. It's a celebration in a way of the human spirit and it's abilities to overcome oppressive structures. As he says “With photography, I like to create fiction out of reality. I try and do this by taking society’s natural prejudice and giving this a twist.”. When I see his photographs I think of my holidays in a caravan with my grandparents to Skegness or Butlins as a little kid, I think about how magical those holidays were and I recognise the same spirit, perhaps that is too difficult to put into words, but Parr manages to express it in his photographs. If aliens came to earth and asked 'what is England?', the closest we could get to an accurate response would be to show them Martin Parr's photography. 

Martin's work also delves beyond England and into a broader context that goes world wide, continuously researching disparity of wealth and working class life Martin has documented life in America, Italy, Switzerland, Ukraine and Turkey, to name a few. Since 1994, Parr has been a member of Magnum Photos.  He has had around 40 solo photobooks published, and has featured in around 80 exhibitions worldwide – including the international touring exhibition ParrWorld, and a retrospective at the Barbican Arts Centre, London, in 2002.

To say that we are exited to have Martin Parr on board with Photography on a Postcard is an understatement. Where as a lot of photographers search for the interesting moments or ideas, Martin looks for meaning, capturing the rhythm, magic and feel of life not just the ideas of the artist. And you could be a part of an exhibition alongside him. If you are a photographer, in whatever genre and would like the chance to be judged to exhibit alongside names such as Martin Parr, Simon Norfolk, Liz Collins and Dougie Wallace then check out our call for submissions here

About the writer
Rosa Torr has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from University College Dublin, though she herself is from London. Her place of interest is political theory and in particular Gender Studies. Rosa has written for numerous online publications and the University Observer. She is also a theatre maker and is currently co-artistic director of BUMP&GRIND Theatre Company. The show she co-wrote BUMP will be on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer.
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