Martin Parr was born in Epsom, Surrey. As a boy, his interest in photography was encouraged by his grandfather George Parr, himself a keen amateur photographer.
Parr studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic from 1970 to 1973. To support his career as a freelance photographer, he took on various teaching assignments between 1975 and the early 1990s. At the beginning of the 1980s his work aimed to mirror the lifestyle of ordinary British people, reflecting the social decline and distress of the working class during the era of Margaret Thatcher. He earned an international reputation for his oblique approach to social documentary, and for innovative imagery. In 1994 he became a member of Magnum after much heated debate over his provocative photographic style.
For Parr, the moral atrophy and preposterousness of our daily lives means we can only find salvation through adopting a certain sense of humor. The banality, boredom and lack of meaning of modern times are portrayed in works such as Bored Couples and Common Sense.
In 2002 Phaidon published the monograph Martin Parr. A large retrospective of Parr's work was initiated by the Barbican Art Gallery in London, and has since been shown in the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris and the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg.
Parr was appointed Professor of Photography in 2004 at the University of Wales, and was Guest Artistic Director for Rencontres d'Arles in the same year. In recent years, he has developed an interest in film-making, and has started to use his photography in different contexts, such as fashion and advertising.