A birthday song for Martin Parr

In his humorous tribute, John Shuttleworth wonders when the Magnum photographer will start taking ‘proper’ pictures
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Martin Parr, Online dating profile picture, Hey Saturday, London, England, 2016
Martin Parr, Online dating profile picture, Hey Saturday, London, England, 2016

Though he is a long-standing member of the very serious Magnum Photos – perhaps the world’s most prestigious reportage agency – Martin Parr (who celebrates his 67th birthday today) still likes a laugh. Indeed, in our new book, Only Human: Photographs by Martin Parr, the author and curator Phillip Prodger sees Parr’s images as representative of a very specific side of British humour.

“In Britain, the real and artificial are sometimes difficult to distinguish, and intention does not always meet reality,” writes Prodger. “Such irreconcilable contradictions have given rise to a particular brand of absurdist comedy, admired throughout the world. Parr’s photography is heir to this rich comedic tradition. It is not satirical,” Prodger goes on, “in that it seeks to make fun of another’s weakness, so much as it is knowing and appreciative of the idiosyncrasies of British national character.”

 

Preparing lobster pots, Newlyn Harbour, Cornwall, England, 2018, by Martin Parr
Preparing lobster pots, Newlyn Harbour, Cornwall, England, 2018, by Martin Parr

That’s a quality shared by the British singer and songwriter Graham Fellows, whose comedic alter-ego, the modest cabaret musician John Shuttleworth, has featured in Parr’s work for some time. There’s a photograph of Shuttleworth in Only Human – apparently, he’s checking the level of the local reservoir – and back in 2006 Parr filmed Shuttleworth’s comedy documentary, It’s Nice Up North.

 

 

 

In return, Shuttleworth wrote this song for Martin, which captures some of Parr’s own peculiarities, and also features a special verse originally written to be sung on the photographer's 60th birthday. We can’t think of a better time to share it with you all. 

 

Stone Cross Parade, St George’s Day, West Bromwich, the Black Country, England, 2017, by Martin Parr
Stone Cross Parade, St George’s Day, West Bromwich, the Black Country, England, 2017, by Martin Parr

Martin, Martin

When will you be starting

A serious career in photography?

Passports, weddings, baskets full of kittens

Martin, your attitude baffles and it sickens!

Once I asked Martin to take some pics of me

Relaxing at home with my loving family

With hands like ‘so’, but Martin said ‘No’

And proceeded to snap a plate of mashed potato! 

 

Martin, Martin

When will you be starting

A serious career in photography?

Passports, weddings, baskets full of kittens

Martin, your attitude baffles and it sickens!

Well, I told Martin how to take a photograph

You say ‘Watch the birdie!’ and try to make them laugh

Or at least smile … Martin meanwhile

Was focusing his lens on a nearby rubbish pile! 

And when will this silliness stop?

Photos of light switches, lampshades, the lot

Pleasing to the eye it is not!

And when for goodness’ sake will he open a shop?

 

Martin, Martin

When will you be starting

A serious career in photography?

Passports, weddings, baskets full of kittens

Martin, your attitude baffles and it sickens!

(Optional lines – sung on the occasion of Martin’s sixtieth birthday) 

What a strange chap you are!

But nevertheless, happy birthday, Martin Parr! 

 

 

Only Human: Photographs by Martin Parr

Happy birthday indeed. For more on Parr’s lampshades and rubbish piles, as well as much more besides, order a copy of Only Human here. 


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