The photographer's art isn't valued in Britain, believes Martin Parr. That's why the famous Magnum snapper agreed to be a judge on a TV show. Ciar Byrne reports
photography martin parr
Musicals and opera have already been given the reality television treatment; now it is the turn of photography. A new Channel 4 series, Picture This, takes six wannabe snappers and sets them assignments over the course of three weeks, eliminating the unsuccessful contestants until just two remain to battle it out for the prize.
Martin Parr, the acclaimed photographer best known for his colourful pictures of British seaside life, is one of the three judges on the show.
The documentary photographer became involved with Picture This because he believes that photography is not given the prominence it deserves in the UK, whereas in other European countries and in the United States it is celebrated as an important art form.
Before agreeing to take part, Parr met the programme-makers several times to discuss the concept. "My thinking was that if we've got this very good slot to give oxygen to photography, it's probably good to be involved to make sure it's not bad. TV-makers usually don't know much about photography," he says.
While photography isn't a subject often covered on television, there have been two series devoted to the subject in the space of a few months - Picture This follows in the footsteps of BBC4's The Genius of Photography, which also featured Parr.
"The funny thing about photography is that it's our most democratic and widespread art form, but we don't take it as seriously as the rest of Europe does," Parr says.
The winner of Picture This will have his or her work exhibited at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, and a book of their images will also be published. The latter was Parr's idea, "because having a book published is one of the goals of a photographer".
He says: "This is a genuine deal. Whether the book would have been published without the oxygen of the television programme is difficult to say."
Parr is refreshingly honest about the quality of the contestants in the show. "When I first met them and saw their work, I was slightly disappointed, but they were very keen and their learning curve was quite dramatic," he says, adding the question: "If you're looking for a real new star of photography, does one have to pitch this higher?"
Parr, who was born in Epsom, Surrey, in 1952, was introduced to the camera by his grandfather, a keen amateur photographer who lived on the outskirts of Bradford, West Yorkshire. He went on to study photography at school and again later at Manchester Polytechnic.
After college, he went to live in the Pennine village of Hebden Bridge, where he taught photography as well as using black and white film to capture the "traditional aspects" of the area. In the early part of his career, teaching provided the bulk of his income and he remains keen to pass on his knowledge to future generations of photographers. In 2004, he was appointed Professor of Photography at the University of Wales, Newport.
In 1982, Parr began to use colour, creating the lurid palette he is now known for. …