Gallery of Photography Ireland is delighted to present this first survey exhibition of Martin Parr’s Irish photography, spanning a forty-year period from 1979 to 2019. Viewed by many as the essential English photographer, Martin Parr has actually had a long relationship with Ireland. Between 1980 and 1982 Parr came to live in Ireland, making his home in Boyle, County Roscommon. During this time he photographed extensively in the West of Ireland.
“My wife got a job as a speech therapist in Leitrim. It was great fun moving to the west, and I was out shooting while my wife worked.”
Since then, he has made many return visits, turning his incisive lens on the rapidly transforming landscape of Irish life, charting the abrupt shift from Catholic novenas and country fairs to tech start-ups and café lattes.
This survey also gives an overview of Parr’s own evolving approach to photography, beginning in traditional black and white for the earliest images, before moving, controversially, to colour photography in the 1980s, bringing innovative new ideas to the documentary tradition. The exhibition consists of excerpts from several bodies of work.
Parr’s earliest Irish pictures have a surprisingly lyrical, if still biting tone, such as with the pictures made in dance halls, where the energy of youth matches a new outward looking energy in the country itself, breaking the hold of tradition.
Parr’s later colour projects give a much more pointed view of the increasingly slick commercialism of modern Ireland – shopping centres, show homes and duty free – marking out the contrast between old values and present reality. Often playing with clichéd notions of Irishness, this survey presents a timely opportunity to consider wider issues around representation and the increasingly diverse nature of Irish society.
Parr has been concerned above all with the archetypes of contemporary life, the markers and signs of those values that define a culture, a given place and time. Very few photographers could have captured the drastic transformations that Ireland underwent during this period with such insight and wit. Running through these pictures is a very real affection for the country and its people, at once cruel and tender. His most recent pictures, often made on commission, present the culmination of these changes, an Ireland with an international profile and tastes, but left with enduring tensions in the shadow of Brexit.
— Fintan O’Toole, Irish Times 2020
This exhibition is accompanied by the extensive new publication with an illuminating text by Fintan O’Toole: From the Pope to a Flat White published by Damiani is available from the gallery bookshop and in our online store.
Martin Parr is an English documentary photographer, photojournalist and noted photobook collector. Parr was born in Epsom, Surrey, UK. He studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic from 1970 to 1973. Known as a sharp-eyed and often sardonic chronicler of contemporary life, Parr has realised several major projects: on rural communities (1975–1982), The Last Resort (1983–1985), The Cost of Living (1987–1989), Small World (1987–1994) and Common Sense (1995–1999). Parr has been a member of Magnum Photos since 1994. He served as president of the agency between 2014 and 2017. Parr has received numerous awards over the years including the Sony World Photography Award for Outstanding Contribution to Photography in April 2017, the Erich Salomon Prize in 2006, and the Baume et Mercier award in 2008.
Parr is renowned as a photobook collector and expert. He co-authored a landmark series of publications on the history of the photobook with Gerry Badger. The Martin Parr Foundation, founded in 2014, established its premises in Parr’s hometown of Bristol in 2017. The Foundation supports emerging, established and overlooked photographers who have made and continue to make work focused on the British Isles. It houses Parr’s own archive, his extensive collection of British and Irish photography by other photographers, and a gallery.