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November 15, 2023
BUILDING A SOLID FOUNDATION
Photography courtesy of Martin Parr Foundation
Text by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico
For over 50 years British photographer Martin Parr has explored humanity, documenting his observations through the lens of a camera that has helped define a generation of British culture. He has exposed the way societies globally live their day to day lives, how they play, work, consume, communicate, revealing connections or disconnections to community.
The years of experience focusing through the lens of a camera created an awareness and desire to support photography in more meaningful ways. In the fall of 2017, the Martin Parr Foundation opened their doors in Bristol, United Kingdom. I asked Martin where the idea and motivation came from, to create the Martin Parr Foundation.
“For over 20 years I have been collecting prints and books. More recently, I have started specializing in British photography, and I decided I needed a foundation to launch this so I could officially collect them, find a building to exhibit them, build an archive, build a library, and that is what happened. And in 2017, we opened the current site where we are at now. I had an office in London with maybe 4 people working there, we all helped look for buildings in Bristol. About 6 months of looking, we found our new home. The Foundation started a charity, and the charity bought the Foundation’s building. I have another building in Bristol that I have had for ten years in fact, and we are continuing to expand. We are about to purchase a building next to our current one.”
Martin Parr and his foundation have a mission, and together with his inspirational Board of Trustees, they are devoted and work diligently to accomplishing the Foundation’s Mission Statement.
MARTIN PARR FOUNDATION SUPPORTS EMERGING, ESTABLISHED AND OVERLOOKED PHOTOGRAPHERS, WHO HAVE MADE AND CONTINUE TO MAKE WORK FOCUSED ON BRITAIN AND IRELAND. WE PRESERVE A GROWING COLLECTION OF SIGNIFICANT PHOTOGRAPHIC WORKS AND STRIVE TO MAKE PHOTOGRAPHY ENGAGING AND ACCESSIBLE FOR ALL. WE ARE COMMITTED TO MAKING THE MARTIN PARR FOUNDATION A PLACE FOR EVERYONE AND TO REFLECT THE DIVERSITY OF BRITISH AND IRISH CULTURE.
Speaking with Martin, he shared more about their collection and what the Foundation specializes in.
“We specialize in post war British and Irish photography, and photographers that have worked here from abroad. I feel British documentary photography is very good, it's underrated, so I feel it is my job in a sense to build a collection of this, I am not the only one that has a good collection, James Hyman Gallery in London has a good collection, the V&A has a good collection, the Tate has come into photography of course much later, but are sort of making good progress, so I am not unique in this. I think we have every book of interest post war about British photography that has been published.”
Martin put together a heavy hitting select group of driven individuals, with the same goals in helping him and the foundation achieve their short-term and long-term goals. The Martin Parr Foundation is a family foundation with nine present board members including Martin, his wife and their daughter. They all have specific focus and talents that combined are the engines that drive the foundation to achieve their short-term goals. They are committed to providing their combined resources to successfully realize their long-term goals for the future.
When I asked Martin what were some of the challenges he faced along the way and how did he overcome them. Remarkably Martin has not had any challenges really. The team works seamlessly with diligence to create a valuable resource of sustainability for British and Irish photography. It is what drives and inspires them.
“We have over 500 members, a terrific response from the public, we do a book fair. Everything else is looking pretty good actually, so the challenge of finding an audience has been met very successfully. We do a bit of social media organizing, we have a very good social media person, most of the outcome is done for free. We are aiming of course to find other photographers, people interested in photography, and I think we have done that all pretty successfully.”
In 2021, the Martin Parr Foundation launched a photographic bursary to support Black, Asian and minority ethnic photographers in the United Kingdom, extending their outreach embracing even more unrecognized talented visual storytellers, helping to diversify, support, and represent a broader range of brilliant photography.
I asked Martin what was the inspiration for the commitment of the foundation to support emerging and unrecognized photographers. How do you find them, how do they find you?
“As I mentioned before, I think British photographers are underrated, and some of the more established names have not received the recognition they deserve, and young new emerging photographers need to have shows in public spaces. We are very happy to give a photographer their first show, it's always a great thrill to do that, and to see the show very well received, and to see them go on and take part in the whole business of being a British photographer.
People write to us and send us books all the time, and I'm always on the lookout for emerging photographers. We are in social media and magazines, constantly looking for new people who are interesting to get in touch with.”
When the Martin Parr Foundation supports an artist, it is a process of enabling the artist to grow by giving them the support they need. It is a long-term relationship they nurture, and it is rewarding to the photographer as well and to the trustees and members of the foundation.
“We help them make a selection, we help them print it out, we have a very good PR person who is getting very good publicity for all our shows. So, we basically apply all the skills we have here, especially when they are emerging photographers, so they can benefit from having a very professional, very interesting, good solid show, with a good response.”
I wondered if all the work for the foundation over the years and all the photographers Martin has encountered have had any impact on the way he engages his own photography.
“Not really, no it's an add on, which I'm very happy to have, you know I’ve been a photographer for all these years, and I have all this energy so I can invest it in other things as well. And also trying things for new, trying things that are a challenge, that is always fun. Getting the foundation up and running, getting the membership, getting the audiences for our talks, our book festival, etcetera.”
As photographers it is a daunting task to organize a system to archive our work. Can you imagine this task being left to our children, or our siblings. I inquired about why the foundation has taken the responsibility of some photographers' archives. Food for thought for all photographers as we collect vast libraries of photographic information and materials.
“This is a big problem that all the photographers of my generation, have to face, what are they going to do with their archives, so yeah, there is no x, y or z here, not like in America, so you just have to do it, organize it for yourself. It often falls on the children of the photographer, so that is one thing I wanted to avoid, when you have one daughter, I didn't want to lumber her with the task of sorting it all out.”
I asked Martin what have been some of the Martin Parr Foundation's high points as well as any low points over the years.
“We just had our book festival which had thousands of people through, we had nine talks. We had another joint photobook festival with BOP, Books on Photography. More people than ever before attended, there were more talks than ever before, and all talks were full. Then we had a quiz on Saturday night at a local bar that was very well attended, so everything has been great. That's one of the high points really, just to see all these people come here. No low points really at all.”
When I asked Martin what some of the long-term and short-term goals of the Foundation are, he told me, “More of the same, both to both.” They will continue to secure the photographic legacy of British and Irish photographers, while inspiring and supporting new visual storytellers that will create a new dialogue for the future of photography.
“Being a collector of many things, especially photo books. I asked what was the first book in his collection, and Martin immediately replied, “‘The Americans’ by Robert Frank. It is one of the great books of the 21st century. And ‘A Day Of’, by Tony Ray-Jones.” Daido Moriyama would also be in the top ten authors and books in his collection. Martin explained how it is not just the photographs that inspire him, but it is the whole package, the way the artists developed the concept of the book, the paper, layout, binding, all play a role in what makes a book special and rare. Straightforward and simple like Robert Frank ‘The Americans’ as well as the more complex works by Daido Moriyama, all bring inspiration through the combination of how they feel, how they work as a complete thought process, because the photographs are just brilliant.”
I asked Martin Parr what he does with the moments he is not out helping to change and support the world of photography, and what gives him personal pleasure in his time off.
“Well, I like to go out to eat, I like having walks, which is somewhat limited due to my having Myeloma. I can't walk as far as before, but on nice breaks, I go with my wife. We've been together for 48 years I think now, which is a long time.”
Martin is as committed to his family as he is to his work. He relies on their valued contributions to the foundation and enjoys the life they have made together and shared.
The Pictorial List would like to thank Martin Parr for his time and candor answering our questions and enlightening us about what the Martin Parr Foundation is diligently working to achieve.
Photography is a process driven form of expression. From learning the process of capturing light through apertures for different lengths of time, to the process of turning a negative into a positive. As photographers we process our critical and creative thoughts focusing through the lens for our definition of that expression. We are grateful for organizations like the Martin Parr Foundation, that help support photography and photographers of the past as well as genuinely mentor and create new opportunities for photographers of the future.
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The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author/s, and are not necessarily shared by The Pictorial List and the team.
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