The Photobook: What I learnt from Martin Parr

Yesterday I got a lovely treat in the post. I say treat, rather than surprise, because it was a self-purchased treat and I knew full well it was arriving.

“Just tell us what it was”, I hear you say whilst you roll your eyes.

It was a photobook. More importantly it was a photobook I made myself, filled with my images. There is something quite special about seeing your work in print. Wonderful colours, framed within silky white edges. It feels like velvet; your fingertips make contact and your senses start to tingle. It has a smell that if anything smelt the same it wouldn’t be nice, but in this context, it just makes you take a deep breath and say “ahhh”.

For this, my first photobook, I have told a story only I and a couple of friends will recognise. This wasn’t made for public consumption, but rather for me, giving me an opportunity to bring my content back to life.

Magum Photos Now: The Photobook.

The arrival of the photobook was fitting, as last night I attended another talk by Magnum Photos. It was presented by long time Magnum photographer, and now president, Martin Parr.

Now here is a funny man. On more than one occasion he had a sold-out crowd in fits of laughter. His love for the publication of the photobook however, was certainly no joke. Here is a photographer, who in all is prestige, still sounds like a young fanboy when talking about the euphoria he gets when stumbling across a wonderfully crafted photobook.

The photobook really can kick start careers” Martin Parr.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear something like that my mind starts going into overload. Project ideas start coming thick and fast. “Would this work? Would that work?”.

Not to forgot the old classic “I am going to make the best photobook ever made. It will change photography as we know it and I will be forever remembered as an icon, a catalyst for the new age of photographic content”.

Ahem. Excuse me, sorry. I told you my mind went into overload.

What was clear from Parr’s comments on the photobook, was that is was not just about going on a fancy holiday and then sending your images to a printing company and asking them to make a sparkly book for you.

It was about going on a journey, about finding your voice a photographer.  Through your content you are expressing a thought process, a set of emotions that accompany your body of work. For the serious photographer, appreciation goes so much further than a like on Instagram. It goes deeper than a pat on the back and a gentle “oh that’s a good one”. Appreciation is recognised through a connection. A recognition of the emotions you wanted the viewer to generate, and their understanding of your thought process and the storytelling of your content. It was clear that Parr had no doubts what so ever that the photobook played a huge part in generating a connection between the photographer and their consumer.

Magnum Photobook: The Catalogue Raisonne.

There is no better time than when you have a room full of people invested in what you have to say, to have a well-timed book plug (those of you of who misread that for something else, put your head down in shame).

The Catalogue Raisonne is a collection of photobooks in one big photobook. It is the crème de la crème of Magnum photographer’s photobooks, all rolled into one. The work was overseen by Martin Parr himself, as he was part of the selection of which books would be included. He was quick to point out, that it was no easy job when telling photographers which pieces of their work had been chosen for the book. There was often the question of “why did you choose this book of mine, why not this one instead?”. He promptly reminded us; Magnum Photos is a very select group of photographers. You are working alongside a group of artists who have had to go through a vigorous selection process to become a member, and whilst there are no pre-Madonna’s, it does create a healthy ego which in turn can cause debate and argument.

Parr went on to say as the cooperative continues, they are looking for more diversity within its membership. It was following this statement; he was to generate the biggest laugh of the night…

So if you are a black lesbian from Uganda, you have a great chance of getting in”. Martin Parr.

For those of you are interested in The Catalogue Raisonne, you can purchase the book by clicking here. (I had a quick flick through, it is certainly worth the investment).


As always at these kind of events, questions were offered to the room. There was one burning questions I wanted to ask Martin, thankfully I was able to do so.

Q - As we have a generation growing up the digital age, and many more to come, how do photographers ensure that in decades that follow, the photobook remains an attractive option to consumers?

A – I think it’s like anything, quality will always prevail and if we keep making quality content people will still be interested in it. Take vinyl for example. Sure, it took a dip when CDs came out, but even now, in world filled with mp3s, there is still a demand for vinyl. The photobook, just like vinyl, generates a reaction within you. People will never get tired of that feeling.

He is right. Class is class and nothing, no matter how convenient, can replace the quality of a physical thing.

What next?

Tonight, when I got home, the first thing I did was show my friend my new photobook. He had a little more investment in it, as he knew the story behind it and could relate it to the images within the book. I watched how careful he was when handling the book. Like a new born baby, he wanted to take care of it. I noticed the reactions on his face as he turned each page. I even knew which image he was looking at without seeing it myself when I heard him say “oh yes this one”.

That is just a micro example of the impact a photobook can have on someone when they can connect to it.

Now more than ever I realise the importance of taking these project ideas out of my mind and making them a reality. It may take years, possibly decades, but I need to start telling a story and displaying my photographic identity.

Maybe one day I can cause the reaction I saw in my housemate, inside a wider audience. Maybe one day I can be a Magnum photographer and have a successful photobook. Hey, maybe one day I can really make a photobook that is a catalyst for a new age of photographic content. Who knows.

One thing is for sure. Magnum Photos and Martin Parr did tonight what they always do best…They inspired me to do more.

Thanks for reading.

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