An Interview with Martin Parr




3 minutes reading

1. When and why did you and Gerry Badger decide to publish the first volume of The Photobook: A History?
It must have been about eight years ago that I was sitting at a table talking with editors at Phaidon and we began to develop the plan for this project. The idea was to inject a new impulse into the way photo books are perceived. This project was to promote the concept of the photo book itself. I asked Gerry to supply the texts because he was the only person who could have successfully completed this challenging assignment.

2. And Volume 1’s excellent reception led you to publish a second one?
No, that’s not how it went. While producing Volume 1, we soon realized that there was too much material to put into one book. We knew there would be a second volume before Volume 1 was even published.

3. What is the greatest misunderstanding about the two photo books?
People assume that a good photographer will also produce good photo books. This isn’t always true. This is about the photo book itself, not the names behind the photos. There are photographers, for example, who complain about the fact that their book has not been included in either volume of The Photobook: A History.

4. Do you own all the books that you and Gerry describe in the two volumes?
Funny, yesterday I bought the only book still missing from the list. It took a while, and I travelled halfway around the globe for it, but now I finally have El Rectangulo en la Mano by Sergio Larrain (Cadernos Brasileiros, 1963) in my possession. So I do have all the books discussed in the two volumes now.

5. If you could change anything in the two published editions of The Photobook, what would it be?
Absolutely nothing. I’m completely satisfied with what Gerry and I produced. If I had to do it again, I’d do it exactly the same way.

6. So for the time being the collection is complete?
No, not at all. The collection will never be complete. There are still many books I want to have.

7. Does this mean that a third Volume is only a matter of time?
Oh no, definitely not. I have never even considered a third volume. Perhaps when the time is right, but perhaps never.

8. You once divulged that you are a great fan of Dutch photo books. If this is true, where does this predilection come from?
Dutch photo books are usually very stylish. The Dutch have a good eye for design and a dry feeling for the kind of photography I like. They also have a rich tradition of commercial photography. For me the Dutch are the unsung heroes of photography. Both volumes of The Photobook contain more Dutch entries than German, for example, which says a great deal. I’m also a big fan of Rineke Dijkstra and Ed van der Elsken’s works.

9. Can Dutch photographers still add anything to their apparently successful books?
Without a doubt. The problem with Dutch books is that they never travel beyond their own borders. The world is unable to get a taste of the many good Dutch photo books out there. Dutch photo books deserve better distribution, more hype and attention. I don’t know what the problem is, why this isn’t happening yet. It’s definitely ashortcoming on the part of the Dutch publishing world.

10. You regularly visit the Netherlands, and you never return to London empty-handed. Which Dutch bookshops can you recommend for photo book enthusiasts?
I’m usually in Amsterdam, and then I always pay a visit to De Slegte. You’ll not find a greater variety of photo books for such low prices anywhere else. Old and new publications are all mixed together, and they have a substantial number of titles in stock. I also like to visit Paddenburg in Utrecht.

Although Martin Parr spends a great deal of time collecting books, he also continues to photograph. His book, Parking Spaces, records the universal frustration of having to park your car in a large city. From 2002 to 2005, he therefore took pictures, with a compact camera, of empty parking spaces.From Brazil to Australia, and from Thailand to Turkey, he recorded the last remaining parking spaces.