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Interview: Martin Parr

Photographer Martin Parr, who is best known for document- ing the peculiarities of British life, shot our Summer 2011 lookbook in Marrakech. During a quick break in a non-stop work schedule, Parr chatted with us about photography and why regular people are his favorite models.

When did you first pick up a camera?
When I was a teenager my grandfather was a very keen amateur photographer, so he got me excited about photography in the first place.

What are some of the first things you took pictures of?
People, trees, castles, etc.

What drives your work?
I guess the desire to record, really; the desire to create.

Do you see yourself more as a photographer or an artist?
A documentarian more than anything else. Art is just a bi-product and that's a bonus, really.

Is Britain your first love in terms of subject matter?
I photograph in Britain more than any- where else for sure. It's just that I like it here. I also have problems with it, so I'm able to express that ambiguity because I'm looking at my own country.

Are there particular subcultures or scenes that you would like to document?
I want to do everything and anything, but I can't. So I have to restrict myself. Generally, if I want to go do something I go and do it. Things come to the top of the pile and I tick them off. I think about the world and I want to document it and record it and interpret it and collect it. So I'm so overwhelmed with things I want to do, it's just a question of fitting them in. I'm very restless and I need to do a lot of stuff. I work very hard.

What are you working on at the moment?
I made a film this week, actually. It's about a sweet factory in somewhere called the Black Country in England. I have a book about Scotland coming out later next year and I'm working on a new book about Britain, in fact. I don't know when it's coming out yet.

How do you gather your ideas? Do you write lists or make scrapbooks?
Not really, they're just in my head. And when chances come along to work on it, that's exactly what I do. There's no great secret.

How did the Urban Outfitters project come about?
I was asked to do it and I did it. How's that for an answer? I liked the idea of working with them; I'd seen the books that they'd done. No problem to do it, it was just a question of time for me.

“We did street cast- ing in Mar- rakech. I'd rather work with real people.”

What made you choose Marrakech as a location?
It just it had all the elements that we needed. It's relatively sunny, and it's quirky and interesting.

And you worked with regular people instead of models?
We did street casting in Marrakech. I'd rather work with real people. They're more humble and more excited by the shoot and they do exactly what they're told to do.

This isn't the first time you've worked in fashion. You documented Paris Fashion Week for MADAME FIGARO last season and have shot campaigns for Paul Smith. What's your view on the industry?
It's fine. I love it and hate it really. The good thing about this job is I get a lot of freedom.

How do you differentiate between commercial and creative work?
You try to make commercial work your own work. That's why you get the job. You have to try to stamp your own personality in it and that's what I tried to do here.

You're also known for being a collector, which you have documented in books such as Boring Postcards. What's the first thing you became interested in collecting?
I started collecting things when I was a child. I collected fossils and coins, and then it became more photo books, postcards, and more recently, political ephemera. The whole process of photographing is like collecting, too. You have the world out there and you have to make sense of it and you do that by gathering pictures and making them into stories and narratives.

“You have the world out there and you have to make sense of it and you do that by gathering pictures and making them into stories and narratives.”

What are you currently obsessed with?
I've been collecting all the souvenirs of Bin Laden's death. Mugs, mouse mats, watches, paperweights. I collected him when he was alive, and I'm collecting him when he's dead. There's, like, 15,000 objects on eBay. You can type in "Bin Laden dead" and get a wave of stuff.

Who are your major influences?
I don't know, really. I don't have people anymore. The world out there is the thing.

Are there young photographers who have caught your eye lately?
Last year I curated New Documents at the Brighton Photo Biennal, so all the people in there [including Alec Soth, Molly Landreth, and Stephen Gill] are good. They're the new generation of photographers.

What do you love most about what you do?
Basically being paid to do my own hobby. I have to kick myself to come to terms with the fact that I'm a greatly privileged person. I'm doing exactly what I want, and there are people paying me well to do it. It's a fantastic life. I'm lucky.

“I'm doing exactly what I want, and there are people paying me well to do it. It's a fantastic life.”