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There are few photographers who can paint a portrait of modern Britain, in all its complicated glory, quite like Martin Parr. Having first picked up the camera aged 13, the Surrey-born snapper has spent more than 50 years trawling the length and breadth of the British Isles, capturing a nation seemingly trapped in a constant state of flux – as seen in a new book of his work, published by Éditions Louis Vuitton.

Behind his all-seeing lens, he paints British banality with witty, surprisingly beautiful brushstrokes. His pursuit of documenting the everyday has taken him from football terraces to dog shows, from the estates of England’s elite to run-down seaside towns (his most famous photo series The Last Resort depicted summertime revellers on New Brighton Beach, Merseyside, through the Thatcherite years).

Spectators at the Orange Parade in Belfast, Northern Ireland, July 12, 2016

Parr’s work serves as an ongoing study of the absurdities of UK life, which happens to be the subject matter of his latest release. As part of Éditions Louis Vuitton’s Fashion Eye collection of books – the Parisian maison’s travel-oriented publishing arm – United Kingdom is an exploration of leisure pursuits beloved by all sorts of Brits, from 1998  through to today. “I love the British, but I’m annoyed with them at the same time,” says Parr, 71, who is Zoom calling from his home in Bristol. “That contradiction and ambiguity is something I try and explore when I’m photographing so it’s partly therapeutic. You know, I was very cross about Brexit.”

Parr is matter-of-fact and dryly funny, two qualities that lend themselves well to his work. (After asking where this interview will be published, he quickly quips “Is that a porno mag?”) The book is mostly made up of material from his archive, laced with never-before-seen shots and a special photo series that took him to the Midlands to capture the parades, parties and piss-ups which celebrated the King’s coronation last summer.

A city sightseeing tour, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 2008

“It was bonkers, of course,” says Parr of his bank holiday spent photographing Union Jack strewn buffet tables, makeshift parade floats propped on the back of lorries and sparsely attended, outdoor viewing parties where royalists watched the main event on big screens, braving the typical English crap weather, shielded by a wave of brollies.

In the book, the coronation celebrations are cleverly paired with shots of cheery festivalgoers at Glastonbury. Parr made a return to the festival two years ago, the first edition since the pandemic put a break to dancing in muddy fields with your nearest and dearest. “After Covid, people were just so amazed to be back there and so happy. You know, I’ve never seen a bunch of happier people,” he says. Do intoxicated ravers grow weary of someone approaching them with a camera in tow? “They’re up for it. Everyone is there to look good and show off so having a camera is not a problem. It’s quite natural and very easy-going.”

‘Fun day in the park’, celebration of the coronation of King Charles III, West Bromwich, England, 2023 (previously unseen)

Despite its focus being on a nation that often feels divided, United Kingdom thrills with camaraderie, community and a sense of togetherness. Scantily clad gays clubbing at Manchester Pride sit alongside a black-tie dinner dance at London’s Savoy hotel. The prim and proper Royal Ascot lot harmoniously exist next to church choirs, birdwatchers and hen parties. School leavers are paired with Frieze Art Fair goers; grey-tinted inner-city commuters placed beside the technicoloured hues of Notting Hill Carnival.

“I just like people, basically. I go where people are around and where they are enjoying themselves,” says Parr. It’s a documentation of pleasure-seekers from all walks of life, from aristocracy through to the country’s working class; a fractured puzzle that pieces together a view of what British identity might look like today.”

Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England, 2020

“[The book] is an accumulated sense of my relationship to Britain through the camera,” he says. “We have all these strange habits, strange rituals, strange hobbies.” Is he optimistic about the state of the country? “I still think, deep down, the British are very fair and generous. I think we’re quite a tolerant bunch, but that’s not the case with everyone. There are still racists, sexists and bigots in our society.”

Parr’s work doesn’t shy away from Britain’s divisiveness, which is evident in the use of the Union Jack throughout the book. “It makes a very good photo and it’s instantly recognisable as a symbol of Britain,” he says of the flag. “Some people regard it as a symbol of nationalism, some regard it as, you know, patriotic. It has many different interpretations. That’s what I like about it.”

VIP tent, Britfest, Schloss Neuhaus, Paderborn, Germany, 2014

Working with a myriad of luxury houses, like Louis Vuitton, throughout his professional career, Parr has lent his trained eye for spotting fleeting eccentricities in everyday moments to fashion’s highest powers. “When I do fashion, I’m just doing Martin Parr pictures, it’s as simple as that. Only I get to move people around and control [the situation], so in one sense it is easier,” he says. “It’s like solving a problem through photography.”

The money he’s made working in fashion has been reinvested into the Martin Parr Foundation, which was launched in 2017 to support “emerging, established and overlooked photographers” whose work centres on Britain and Ireland. Serving as a gallery and library space, as well as an archive centre, the foundation has spotlighted the works of everyone from Graham Smith, who spent the late ’70s/early ’80s photographing the North East of England in industrial decline, to John Harris, who was on the picket lines to capture the miners’ strikes. Other notable works that have shown at the foundation include Mancunian Elaine Constantine’s portraits of British girlhood and the elegance of normal, day-to-day living lensed by Dublin-born Trish Morrissey.

Celebration of the coronation of King Charles III, Kingswinford, Dudley, West Midlands, England, 2023 (previously unseen)

“I believe in British documentary photography, I think it’s underrated,” says Parr, who regularly hosts workshops, exhibitions and seminars on photographers. “[Before launching the foundation], I didn’t have the opportunity to show how good British photographers are.

After spending almost all of his adult life photographing the island he calls home, I wonder if Parr is proud to be British. “Partly,” he says. “There’s always this reluctance [because of] what some British people get up to. But apart from that, you know, yes, I’m proud to be British. I still think we have a good sense of humour. Hopefully, people will find some of these pictures amusing. I’m trying to show the world as I see it.” United Kingdom is available to purchase here.

Photography by Martin Parr. Taken from Issue 59 of 10 Men UK – PRECISION, CRAFT, LUXURY – is out NOW.

BBC Birdwatchers ident, Rainham Marshes, Essex, England, 2017