Iconic Image: Martin Parr on Abstract painting with abstract shirt

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Magnum member Martin Parr has been called “the Jay-Z of documentary photography” for the immense influence his vivid, witty images have had on the medium. For this month's Iconic Image, Martin tells us the story behind one of his most best-known pictures…

I saw this shirt and liked it so I talked to [the man wearing it] and said, “Could I follow you round for a while?”

I was at the Gulf Art Fair in Dubai in 2007. He was a collector. He understood what I was up to and it wasn’t an issue for him. I was just shadowing him, waiting for it to get better, and then sure enough he stands in front of that painting and there’s the picture. It has that visual pun of the shirt being very similar to the painting he’s looking at. You often know when things are looking good so I was pretty certain this was going to work. That was the peak moment. There was no point going any further because you couldn’t do any better than the painting. I said goodbye and that was it.

Now they have art fairs in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, so it has become quite established, but this was the first one in the Middle East. I decided to go and got the commission from the Observer Magazine, so that must have been where it was first published. It has been published many times since and I think it has nearly sold out as a print, so it’s done quite well. It certainly paid for itself.

This image was shot on a Plaubel Makina 6x7. I think it was the last year I was using film. Digital had got better and being a bit of a Luddite I was slow to move but eventually I did and I’ve never looked back.

I can’t really say how it fits into my work more broadly. It’s just another picture. I have 24,000 pictures on the Magnum site alone. You just accumulate them over the years. I’m a man of many photos and few words – that’s why I’m a photographer, not a writer.

Martin’s advice for young photographers

Work harder, get closer and be passionate about what you photograph.

Martin Parr was talking to Rachel Segal Hamilton.

Images and text courtesy of  Ideas Tap