Theory & Practice

On Shoot with Martin Parr

Martin Parr shares a piece of advice on how to photograph in public places whilst on shoot at a county fair in England.

“I get cabin fever if I haven’t been shooting for a few days,” Martin Parr explains at the beginning of chapter five of the online course, The Art of Street Photography. “I just want to get out there and start photographing because that’s when you’re free to be yourself, more so than in any other activity we get to do as photographers.” 

Photographing in public spaces can be an intimidating act for amateur and professional photographers alike. For Parr, it is the essence of his practice. Throughout his fifty-year career, Parr has compiled an extensive archive exploring themes of leisure, consumption, and life in contemporary Britain. From his photographs of tourists at the beach to bored couples in restaurants, Parr has a knack for capturing people at their most natural, as though he and his camera were simply never there.

Parr is one of the seven Magnum tutors to feature in the online course, alongside Bruce Gilden, Susan Meiselas, Richard Kalvar, Carolyn Drake, Peter van Agtmael and Mark Power. Each share their insights and guidance on how to approach photographing in public, including advice on the practical aspects surrounding street photography,  gear and preparation, and the mindset you need to be successful.

“Where there are people — especially in this country — there are photographs,” Parr explains as he arrives at North Somerset Show, an agricultural show not far from his hometown of Bristol. It is one of two shoots that feature in the chapter, the second being the Chelsea Flower Show in London — both typically British events. 

In the clip above, we see the photographer in action, photographing inside the members-only enclosure and a guinea pig competition. 

Members tent. North Somerset Show, England, 2018. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

"“You just have to have the will to go beyond the intimidating aspect of it. It isn’t easy, but when you get behind the camera and you see the picture that you want, then the fear just goes.” "

North Somerset Show, England, 2018. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

He goes on to explain his approach when photographing events: “Sometimes you need to prepare in advance in so far as doing some research. But I tend to find that when you’re going to an event you don’t really know what it’s going to be like until you get there. Then you have to assess it quickly, go round and speculate where the hot spots are — where things might start to reveal themselves — and then I think keep coming back to the places that show the most promise.”

North Somerset Show, England, 2018. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

And another tip that he shares is to make sure that you’re making bad photographs, too, rather than just focusing on getting the good ones. “It takes momentum to take a good photo,” he explains. “The basic theory is, the more rubbish you take, the better the chances of a good photo emerging as well. So, keep on taking the rubbish.”

Following Martin Parr on shoot is just one of the chapters of the full course. In others, we follow Bruce Gilden as he gets up-close and personal in New York and Peter Van Agtmael in the streets of Coney Island, Brooklyn, as well as looking at editing and sequencing post-shoot and practical advice on building a body of work or portfolio.

The Art of Street Photography is one of the seven online courses featured in our Summer Sale, which runs from August 1 to midnight (EST) on August 31, 2023. For 20% off the course, use the code SUMMER20 at checkout.

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