New photos by Martin Parr reflect his love/hate relationship with Britain in 2023

Half naked man walking behind a ceremonial mayor at a Pride march
(Image credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Gallery)

Photo London 2023 kicks off this week, and every year the event organizers honor a legendary photographer with the title Master of Photography. This year, they've picked Martin Parr, and one of the highlights at the Fair will be a new exhibition of the Magnum documentary photographer's recent works. 

“These are images that haven't been shown before, mostly taken very recently and show highlights from my ongoing documentation of the British Isles," Parr explains. 

"Many familiar subjects are found here, such as my long fascination with the British seaside and the ongoing documenting of agricultural shows and summer fetes. New discoveries are always being made such as the wonderful steam fair in Dorset or the half marathon in Bristol."

Love-hate relationship

Llandudno, Wales, 2013 (Image credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Gallery)

Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England, 2016 (Image credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Gallery)

Audiences are drawn to Parr's work primarily for its honesty. Neither sychophantic nor patronising, he presents his subjects as they are, warts and all. Rather than using his work to push a particular vision of how things should be, he simply shows them as they really are.

“I think of these images as an interpretation of the many mixed emotions I feel towards my homeland," he explains. "It is almost a love/hate relationship, and I find addressing this is almost a form of therapy for me."

To complement the show is a grid of images taken from Parr's 'Beach Therapy' project. "With my ongoing fascination with the seaside, this is a set of images taken with a telephoto lens, where I explore distant figures on the beach, usually with out-of-focus greenery in the foreground," he explains. "Although each is an individual work, they become a fascinating grid when put together."

St Ives, Cornwall, England, 2017 – one of a series of telephoto shots taken by Parr with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM zoom on his Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. For most of his photos, Parr typically uses a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. (Image credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Gallery)

“Finally, there are half a dozen photo deckchairs, again shot on the beach, to give people a chance to contemplate the work they have just seen.”

50 years in focus

Fans of Parr's work will see a clear line between this new work and the project that he has essentially been working on for the past half-century.

“For over 50 years now I have been photographing in Britain and Ireland and have built a comprehensive archive of my time here, which has been further broken down into different chapters," he explains. These range from early black-and-white images of a mental hospital, to the Chinese community in Liverpool and Manchester.

"When I changed to shooting in color," he adds, "I started by depicting a working class resort adjacent to Liverpool, and subjects such as shopping in Salford and the middle classes of Bath and Bristol. More recently I have documented the establishment, with projects on Oxford University and the Livery companies of London."

Bristol, England, 2016 (Image credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Gallery)

Great Dorset Steam Fair, Dorset, England, 2022 (Image credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Gallery)

“Martin Parr is quite rightly regarded as the godfather of British photography," says Photo London’s co-founder Fariba Farshad. "It is no exaggeration to say that without his exemplary practice, today’s British photography scene would be much impoverished. It would certainly be a great deal less fun.

"He has been an unstinting and generous champion of young and overlooked photographers and through the work of the Martin Parr Foundation, which he set up in 2017, he has worked tirelessly to make photography accessible to all. In all this, Martin’s work aligns perfectly with our own, and we are thrilled to present him as our 2023 Master of Photography."

Leading the pack

Whitchurch Country Show, Dorset, England, 2022 (Image credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Gallery)

Les Rencontres de la Photographie, Arles, France, 2015 (Image credit: © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Gallery)

Martin Parr: Recent Works’ leads the Photo London 2023’s Public Programme, which this year features 110 exhibitors coming from 55 cities across five continents, to show best of the past, present and future of photography worldwide.

Other highlights at the event include the group show ‘Writing her own Script: Women Photographers from the Hyman Collection’ and the Photo London Talks Programme curated by Aperture, which will feature a talk by Parr.

For further information about Photo London 2023 and to book tickets, visit the website.

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Tom May

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specializing in art, photography, design and travel. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, T3, Heat, Company and Bella.