scribbling in the dark - photographer's talks: scribbling in the dark - LOOK3 Parr 2009

The scribbing in the dark series is a group of personal reflection writings on photography gatherings and slideshows. My notes are scribbled quickly in a tiny notebook, usually in a darkened room, so I ask in advance that you read the words below as my own recollections.  


scribbling in the dark -  

Martin Parr Masters talk at LOOK3 

Martin Parr the photographer, filmmaker, collector, curator and publisher said "All people who get anywhere are obsessive" during his Masters Talk at LOOK this year. A longstanding obsession for Martin is his use of his creativity to examine idiosyncratic cultural character and to throw a spotlight on how we live around the globe. 

Though it may not be readily apparent to someone who looks briefly or out of a larger context at Parr's glossy, often garish hyperbolic images, he considers himself to be a concerned photographer in the traditional sense. Parr's M.O. is to use "irony to disguise" his seriousness. By focusing on the -isms of our society - like tourism and consumerism - he hopes to represent the world that we actually live in. Parr works against the overwhelming power of the over published image, saying that there are abundant essays on mental hospitals, circuses, and that there is an element of propaganda even in our family albums. His message is to encourage us as photographers to be independent thinkers, and to look for vulnerability and ambiguity in our ideas and in our photos. To improve and deepen his own work, Martin studies stand-up comedians.  

Parr showed a wide body of work, pulling from his books Martin Parr, The Last Resort, Bad Weather and Common Sense, among others. Bad Weather came about in part because as an Englishman he is obsessed with the weather, but also because he realized that photographers for the most part shoot in good weather. Instead, he thought he would shoot in only bad weather. Parr said he had a constant "affair" with his flash; when using it in bad weather conditions especially there were a lot of accidents. Parr studied these accidents, and then learned how to incorporate them into his conscious choices when shooting. In a thought process similar to his motivations for making Bad Weather, Parr turned the fact that most photographers look for intrigue on its side and decided to look for the mundane to see "what he could do with it." 

Parr is not only a prolific producer of books of his own photography, but is frequently an editor of books of collections (like Boring Postcards and Saddam Hussein Watches), a maker of art books (like Love Cube, the game) as well as the editor of The Photobook: A History.  

Parr expressed that he believes most photographers have blind spots and tend to work at the extremes of subject matter. He thinks it is important that we photograph our dislikes and our prejudices, that we air them them out. He said that photography is an excellent tool to help us examine our ambiguity about the things that we love and hate. He encourages us to question trends, to go beyond good photography and to think about how things will look in years to come, and to constantly challenge not only your own assumptions, but those of the photo community. 

Parr said that he studies the decline of photographers, and that their biggest pitfall is laziness, citing the classic example of a photographer's first book being their best. He reminds us to stay fresh and push ourselves forward, to see our strengths and to know our weaknesses. 

When Parr's grandfather gave him his first camera, with it was a note, hoping that the boy would learn to "cultivate an eye for beauty of all line, form and colour." Martin expressed his own goals as trying to order and make sense of the world by using photography. He said that for him, photography is another form of collecting; perhaps he is gathering visual records as evidence that there is some kind of structure to our strange ways and habits. Though it is a widely circulated story, Parr seemed glad to recount it once more: When Parr joined Magnum, he received a fax from Henri Cartier-Bresson saying "I think you are from another planet." Martin thought that was the greatest compliment of all.