Martin Parr: OXFORD

About the exhibition

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. 

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.

Highlights 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.


ALL IMAGES: © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

 The curator

  • Martin Parr

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.

- Martin Parr -

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