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Oxford University by Martin Parr

Martin Parr’s ongoing study of British social mores takes him to Oxford University for his latest book

Martin Parr

Martin Parr Encaenia garden party. Wadham College, Oxford. England, Great Britain. 2015. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos

A seat of learning, steeped in history and tradition, Oxford University makes the perfect subject for Martin Parr’s continued exploration of British culture, class and societal mores. A year in the life of the esteemed university is captured in a new book, out now. The images capture the day-to-day life of the colleges and University at work and play, and the colorful and arcane rituals that make it so distinctive. A selection of these images are presented here with an excerpt of an afterword written by Simon Winchester OBE, who describes the moment he discovered he’d won a place.

Martin Parr Bodleian Library. Encaenia, the Old Schools Quadrangle. Oxford. England, Great Britain. 2015. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Martin Parr After dinner on a Monday night, students take it in turns to bake a cake for other members of the Graduate Common Room. Christ Church College Graduate Common Room cake club. Oxford. England, Great (...)
Martin Parr Senior Common Room. Balliol College, Oxford. England, Great Britain. 2015. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Martin Parr Balliol College. Oxford. England, Great Britain. 2015. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos

“My father brought a letter to me in my bedroom. It was in a brown envelope, the kind of envelope in which bills of small consequence arrived. It was from Oxford, and it looked as though it contained bad news—if good news, it surely would have been in an envelope of stiff cream paper, not this meagre thing.

Martin Parr Radcliffe Square. Oxford. England, Great Britain. 2014. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Martin Parr Encaenia. Oxford. England, Great Britain. 2015. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Martin Parr Graduation Day. Kebel College, Oxford. England, Great Britain. 2015. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos

I opened it with care, my father looking on anxiously. The letter was indeed from the college, from a man named Lloyd Stocken, tutor in biochemistry. We are very pleased… he began. I think I couldn’t read the rest, my eyes were so clouded with tears. My father took it from my hands. It was a quick read. ‘You’re in!’ he cried with delight. ‘You’ve won a place at Oxford!’

Martin Parr Teaching Staff outside the Green Shed. Ruskin School of Art. Oxford. England, Great Britain. 2015. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Martin Parr Many Colleges own tortoises and a tortoise keeper is often elected. Every year there is an inter college tortoise race held at Corpus Christi College. Oxford. England, Great Britain. 2016. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Martin Parr The Oxford Tolkien Society's 25th birthday garden party. Christ Church College, Oxford. England, Great Britain. 2015. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos

"You’re in!’ he cried with delight. ‘You’ve won a place at Oxford!"

- Simon Winchester
Martin Parr Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. England, Great Britain. 2015. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Martin Parr Traditionally a fairground ride is expected at all college balls. Swing boats, helter skelters and dodgems are the most popular. Brasenose College Ball. Oxford. England, Great Britain. 2015. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Martin Parr Trashing. After the final exam, friends and colleagues of the students who have finished their final exam are trashed as they leave the back of the examination hall. This involves much foam sprayin (...)

The oldest university in the English-speaking world, it is claimed and generally believed. Certainly not as old as Bologna, the Holy Roman establishment of higher learning to which the Latin name universitas was first applied. And the University of Paris was older, too. But Oxford is certainly more ancient than Cambridge, is considerably senior to St Andrews and Glasgow and Aberdeen, and enjoys the same degree of veneration as Padua and Florence and Heidelberg and Salamanca and all those other great papally sanctioned institutions of European learning that came into being in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Except that some aver, probably mistakenly, that Oxford was actually born earlier than any of these arrivistes, and like to cite evidence for a greater antiquity that has long intrigued historians and champions of what has come to be called the Oxford myth.”

Martin Parr Summer Eights rowing competition. The Summer Eights are a huge event in the University calendar. Whichever crew becomes ‘ Head of the River’ (i.e. wins the 4 day race, by not being bumped off the n (...)
Martin Parr Summer Eights rowing competition. The Summer Eights are a huge event in the University calendar. Whichever crew becomes ‘ Head of the River’ (i.e. wins the 4 day race, by not being bumped off the n (...)
Martin Parr GB. England. Oxford. Exams are taken in full academic dress, known as subfuse, and a carnation is worn to depict where they stand in the exam process: a white carnation for the first exam, pink, fo (...)
Martin Parr Codrington Library. All Souls College. Encaenia, Oxford. England, Great Britain. 2016. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos