Martin Parr

I found it quite difficult to decide upon who to research in preparation for this third assignment on buildings in use. There were many architectural photographers to choose from, but I felt that this assignment was not so much centred around the structure of the building as it was the actual effectiveness of the space, and the way in which it was used. Therefore I decided to research documentary photographer Martin Parr. Parr chooses to capture how spaces are used instead of solely capturing a simple building or landscape alone. His work reiterates what I learnt from the assignment; People and Activity. Parr shows effectively how people interact with space, and thus how effective these spaces are in doing what they were made for. This is a huge part of my next assignment on Buildings in Use; and so therefore this research will be a great aid in building up my knowledge in this area. I also feel that Parr teams nicely with my research on Gregory Crewdson’s unique style in capturing spaces in a haunting  and eerie way, and in effect, showing their use in everyday life. Therefore Gregory Crewdson and Martin Parr are the two styles in which I am basing my main research for Assignment Three on.

Martin Parr is a British documentary photographer who is well known for his work which takes a look at suburban life in England. He was another photographer who was part of the Magnum production, but he did things a little differently. “Magnum photographers were meant to go out as a crusade … to places like famine and war and … I went out and went round the corner to the local supermarket because this to me is the front line.(1)” Parr chose to capture images right outside his front door. He captured people in everyday places and situations completely unaware, and the results were often humorous and slightly merciless. “His unflinching eye and unrepentant camera have caught us humans unaware of where we are and how we act — and how we might appear in some moments to a ruthless witness armed with a loaded camera.(2)” Parr admits to his own ruthless nature in capturing images, however his bold approach is a huge part of the success of his images. He says of the image below; “This girl is looking at me and sort of saying, ‘what on earth are you doing?’, and that’s what gives it that extra little bit of magic.(3)”


GB. England. New Brighton. From 'The Last Resort'. 1983-85.

His confident and brazen approach to capturing images succeeds in creating a strong connection with the subject that is clear for the viewer to see. This is an element that I feel I need to work on in my next assignment. In the spaces I capture where people are involved, I must take note from Parr’s strong approach, and photograph with more confidence and boldness. We again see Parr’s ruthless nature in the type of images he captures. He is merciless to his victims (subjects!), and when capturing them unaware, the results are very revealing of human nature. We see this in the image below. The cluttered chip shop provides an ugly scene, almost like cattle lining up to be fed. This further emphasises Parr’s interesting style and somewhat twisted sense of humour that is injected into a lot of his work. I personally really love this slightly strange style of photography, as it stands out from the norm.


GB. England. New Brighton. From 'The Last Resort'. 1983-85.

Another aspect of Parr’s success is the wide-angle used to connect with the subject. “The idea of using flash combined with daylight was to create a surreal effect, using those very bright colours. It’s amateur film I use, so it helps give it extra saturation. Then the camera is a wide-angle so you’re in very close. All those things contribute to the look and feel of the photograph.”(6) The short focal length is effective in creating a sense of closeness to the subject, and forms a nice connection which easily enables the viewer to step right into the frame. The wide-angle used also makes it possible for Parr to capture the inside of buildings and spaces; fitting into the frame both the subject he is capturing as well as the background of the scene. This provides a nice context for the image; showing firstly who or what is being captured, as well as providing a strong narrative as to what they are doing. This is a technique which I will use in my next assignment. Using a wide-angle is key to capturing spaces well, and showing effectively the context of what you are aiming to capture. “Awareness of space as a design principle allows you to confer emphasis on a subject, or create stronger separation between a subject and its environment or background.(7)” Using space is a great means to strengthen the design and creativeness of an image. A simple building or space is a great platform for a strong photo opportunity. The way in which spaces are used can be of great interest when captured correctly and effectively. We see this in Parr’s image below. He has used a specific space; a wave pool, and utilized the angle of shooting and the interesting subject matter to create a fascinating image. The interesting angle of shooting, pointing down at the space works in revealing the crowd nicely; showing the individual people and circumstances well. Had Parr simply shot from ground level, the crowd in the foreground would have dominated the frame too much; and the concentration would automatically have been on ten or so people in the foreground, and thus the background would have merely got lost in the frame. The context would also have been less clear. However, Parr’s viewpoint here reveals the context of the space brilliantly; showing not only the subject, but also how the space is used, all in one single shot. This shows the importance of the angle of view when showing how buildings and spaces are used.


Japan. Miyazaki. The Artificial beach inside the Ocean Dome. 1996.

Parr also shows the necessity of searching for an interesting subject matter. “You cannot hide behind technique; you can take the worst photos of the world, blow them up into a gallery show and make them look good. But still they will have nothing to say.(9)” A strong subject is hugely important in photography. When choosing the buildings and spaces to capture for Assignment Three I hope to choose a great variety of different places, with varying uses and subjects. I agree with Parr that if an image is perfectly composed, exposed and edited, yet says nothing, then there really is little point. Therefore I will take this directive of Parr’s on board when choosing buildings and subjects to capture for this third assignment. We see some of Parr’s interesting and varied subject matters below.


GREECE. Athens. Acropolis. 1991.


UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. Dubai. DIFC Gulf Art Fair. 2007.


GB. England. Greater Manchester. Salford. A Tupperware party. 1986.


HUNGARY. Budapest. Szechenyi thermal baths. 1997.


martin parr 4

I have acquired a large amount of ideas of skills and techniques from Parr upon approaching Assignment Three. I have seen the importance of a bold approach, a strong calculated angle of view, and an interesting subject matter when capturing how spaces used.

(1) BBC (2007) Photography- Genius of Photography, Martin Parr, Available from: [Accessed 07/06/13]

(2) LENS CULTURE (2005) Martin Parr- Mischievous Ironist, Available from: [Accessed 07/06/13]

(3) BBC (2013), Explaining the Story Behind the Photograph, Available from: [Accessed 07/06/13]

(4) MAGNUM PHOTOS (2012), Photographers- Martin Parr, Available from: [Accessed 07/06/13]

(5) MAGNUM PHOTOS (2012), Photographers- Martin Parr, Available from: [Accessed 07/06/13]

(6) EASY WEB, Martin Parr- Humanity Is Not Pretty, Available from: [Accessed 07/06/13]

(7) WEBB, JEREMY (2010), Basics Creative Photography- 01 Design Principles, AVA Publishing

(8) MAGNUM PHOTOS (2012), Photographers- Martin Parr, Available from: [Accessed 07/06/13]

(9) PHOTOGRAPHIC MUSEUM OF HUMANITY (2012), Available from: [Accessed 07/06/13]

(10-14) MAGNUM PHOTOS (2012), Photographers- Martin Parr, Available from: [Accessed 07/06/13]


One thought on “Martin Parr

  1. Pingback: Contrasting Approaches of Martin Parr and Anna Fox | HansPhotography

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