Legendary photographer Martin Parr on the future of British photography
By Thalia Chin | Art | 24 October 2017

Tired drink picture,1986 by Tom Wood

Top image: Tired drink picture (1986) by Tom Wood.

“I think [photography] is a great democratic art form, it is the best in the world and I think its ability to connect with communities is outstanding,” explains acclaimed photography Martin Parr below. Wanting to create an accessible environment that both nourishes and showcases British photography, this week sees the Martin Parr foundation open its doors to the public.

Located in Bristol’s Printworks, the foundation comprises of a studio, gallery, library and archive centre. Here, budding photographers are able to flick through archival imagery while honing their craft. Housing Parr’s personal photography archive, the foundation also boasts an impressive collection of imagery by selected British and Irish photographers – as well as images taken in the UK by international photographers – including works by Keith Arnatt, Richard Bilingham, Elaine Constantine, John Davies, Paul Ray-Jones, Paul Reas, Graham Smith and Tom Wood.

Simultaneous to his reputation as a photographer, Parr is also known as an important collector of photo books and over the past forty years has dedicated himself to discovering and promoting the overlooked, making a huge contribution to the history of the medium in the UK.

The first exhibition on show will be Parr’s own Black Country Stories series – a four-year project documenting life in the north England area – followed by a show by Scottish photographer Niall McDiarmid in February of next year.

Here we chat to Parr about his vision for the foundation.

Gallery: Selected images from the Martin Parr foundation archive


Thalia Chin: How did you first get involved in documentary photography?
Martin Parr: Well, I started when I was a teenager, I went to visit my grandfather who was a very keen photographer. By that age I was thirteen or fourteen and decided that that was what I wanted to be.

Thalia: Can you tell me a bit about the foundation, why it was first started? What are your main aims for the foundation?
Martin: Well it was formed in 2014 and next week we are opening it to the public. We found a building last year, bought it and moved in in February and have been doing it up ever since. It will be the first research centre for my own work and my archive will be kept here. But it will also be a research centre and a place where you can visit and look at British photography, documentary in particular.

Thalia: Why did you choose Bristol?
Martin: Because I live here and it is cheaper than London and it’s a very nice city.

“I think it is a great democratic art form, it is the best in the world and I think its ability to connect with communities is outstanding.”

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

Thalia: Why is it so important to you that the power of photography be emphasised right across the British Isles?
Martin: I think it is a great democratic art form, it is the best in the world and I think its ability to connect with communities is outstanding. So it is fantastic to have this platform and gallery to show work and share the ones that I have not only taken myself but also collected.

Thalia: And I understand that you are an avid collector of photo books, will they also be archived at Paintworks in Bristol?
Martin: No they are going to the Tate, I am just replicating the British and Irish version of that here.

Thalia: And will that be open to the public as well?
Martin: We haven’t devised yet how that is going to work because first we need to get this place open. But next year we are going to announce how we are going to handle the quest for research.

Thalia: Could you tell about the other photographers are lined up to exhibit at Paintworks?
Martin: Well the next show will be by someone called Niall McDiarmid who is a very very good up-and-coming portrait photographer. He is on show next and I will be doing the opening show.

Thalia: How did you come to know Niall McDiarmid and his work?
Martin: I have just seen his work around because it’s a small world, I know a lot of the British photographers and who they are and what they get up to. I have bought their work, I am friends with them. It’s a small world.

Sorrento, Italy, 2014. From the series ‘Amalfi Coast’. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

Thalia: In terms of the photo book form, what appeals to you about the format?
Martin: Obviously we have an online Instagram account with us showing the work but it’s nice to have somewhere where people can come look at physical books and buy them.

Thalia: What do you hope audiences will gain from this space that you have created?
Martin: Well, the opportunity to look at work and to share the things that I have thought to be very good. And just for people to see things and have the chance to research as well if they want.

The Martin Parr Foundation will open in Bristol on the 25th of October 2017.


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