Exhibition of Martin Parr's unique view of Oxford University to launch at Photo Oxford 2017

Martin Parr: OXFORD | 8 September - 22 October 2017 | Weston Library, Oxford | free admission

16 August 2017

Never before seen photographs of life and work at the University of Oxford captured by Martin Parr, the world renowned British photographer, are to go on display at Oxford’s Weston Library.

Photo of students in graduation gowns covered in foam and paint - GB. England. Oxford. Trashing. 2016. © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Open from 8 September – 22 October, the sixty-nine images are the culmination of three years' work by Parr, in collaboration with the Bodleian Libraries and Oxford University Press, to document some of the most iconic and interesting events, spaces and traditions at the renowned University. 

Martin Parr: Oxford will launch PHOTO OXFORD 2017 a celebration of photography through exhibitions and related activities taking place at venues in Oxford from 8 – 24 September 2017. Curated by Tim Clark and Greg Hobson, the exhibition coincides with the publication of these (and more) photographs in a new book, OXFORD Martin Parr by Oxford University Press, available from 7 September.

Parr is one of Britain's best-known contemporary photographers and President of Magnum, the world-famous photographic agency. For more than 40 years, Parr has largely turned his lens to aspects of British culture. Whether early black and white documentary work examining typically English traditions or acute observations of the impact of consumerism on our daily lives, Parr's photographs demonstrate tremendous perception and affection for his subjects. By focusing on the mundane, Parr is renowned for his unique brand of satire, wit and colour photography.

From 2014 to 2016 Parr was given unique access to ceremonies and celebrations across the University: graduations, balls, and sporting events as well as behind the scenes student antics and rituals, ceremonies and age-old traditions that still hold significance today. Parr has also photographed academic life including tutorials, lectures and cutting-edge research activity and college life. With his characteristically witty and unflinching eye, Parr was able to capture the many different quirks of university life at Oxford that have rarely been seen or documented by those outside of the institution.

Martin Parr, said:

'I have long been fascinated by Oxbridge and when this opportunity arose to shoot a long term project, looking behind the scenes at the secret life of Oxford University, I jumped at this challenge. Working with both the Bod and OUP gave me access to events and scenes, well hidden away from public view and this was a great privilege to both witness and document.'

Portrait of a man in a bowler hat - GB. England. Oxford. Simon Tsang. Custodian.© Martin Parr/Magnum PhotosHighlights from the three year project on display include:

  • a group portrait of some of Oxford University's 'tortoise keepers' and their tortoises who take part in an annual inter-college tortoise race;
  • behind-the-scenes photographs of some of Oxford's distinctive college balls;
  • photographs of the one-day celebration of Encaenia, a traditional University ceremony where honorary degrees are granted to external figures at the Sheldonian Theatre, as well as behind-the-scene photographs of the annual meeting of the Chancellor’s Court of Benefactors, which is made up of individuals or organizations who donate more than £1.5 million to the University;
  • celebrations for May Day outside Magdalen College and other Oxford landmarks;
  • the Beating of the Bounds and other traditional events that have been a part of Oxford life for centuries;
  • student celebrations like 'trashing', where Oxford University students celebrating finishing their exams, resulting in a frenzy of colour and carnivalesque celebration; and
  • behind-the-scenes images of tutorials, lectures and lab work in various University departments.

Parrcasts a wry eye over these events and many others, illuminating an everyday and extraordinary world which brings together both ancient traditions and contemporary innovation. Ultimately, Martin Parr: Oxford resolves into a photographic portrait of a time and a place, generating a fixed moment in the depiction of Oxford University's rich history and cultural and intellectual heritage.

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, said:

'Martin Parr has brought his unique viewpoint to the University and we are delighted to be able to show some of his images opening up Oxford at this free exhibition in the Weston Library. Martin strongly supported the Bodleian’s campaign to acquire the archive of William Henry Fox Talbot, who made the first photographic journey to Oxford in the 1840s, and I’m sure this new collection, looking at the many different aspects of Oxford life will be of huge interest to Martin's fans, local residents, visitors and alumni alike. This is a rare opportunity to see work of a brilliant photographer who normally only exhibits at larger international galleries.'

Other displays on show across the city during PHOTO OXFORD 2017 include Russian Criminal Tattoos: A Lexicon of Crime; Edgar Martins: Siloquies and Soliloquies on Death, Life and Other Interludes; Mariken Wessels: Taking Off. Henry, My Neighbour; as well as an Open Call and a community-engaged and social activism project led by Aaron Williamson and Kate Mahony.

Photo of a group of Bedels in gowns - GB. England. Oxford. The Bedels. The Bedels. © Martin Parr/Magnum PhotosA one day symposium featuring talks by the PHOTO OXFORD 2017 artists will run at the Weston Library on Thursday 7 September, 1.30 – 6.00pm. Tickets are on sale now on the What's On website.

Martin Parr: Oxford is on display 8 September to 22 October 2017 in the Weston Library, Oxford OX1 3BG. For more information visit www.photooxford.org or www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whatson

The publication OXFORD Martin Parr, by Oxford University Press, is available to pre-order online at the Oxford University Press website and will be available in all good bookshops from the 7 September 2017.

ALL IMAGES: © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

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