Does humour belong in Photography?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Michel Hardy-Vallée, Aug 30, 2005.

  1. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Recalling the recent thread about Aperture and how the current output of contemporary artists seem to depress some, and/or baffle others, I would like to ask the question: Can a photograph be funny AND be a work of art at the same time? I stand on the ground that a photograph can be a work of art, but I could not for the longest time think of having ever laughed during an exhibition. Many great photographs are contemplative, touching, moving, provocating, but which of them make you laugh? Have you ever peed your pants watching a great print? If not, why would laughter be evacuated from the range of emotions that good photography and art in general should convey to their viewers? Is it even possible to tell a joke with a picture?

    James Joyce is one of my favorite author not jut because I'm a geek and actually bother to follow the arcane details of his writing, but also because he's so damn funny while being a brilliant writer at the same time. Great satirists like Swift, Sterne (also Irishmen, come to think of it), Voltaire, Dickens can be hilarious, but writing and other narrative art have the benefit of temporality, which is often essential to buildup a situation leading to a punch. Photography is not essentially temporal, though you may appreciate separate elements of the picture in a succession ("diachronically" if you will) rather than simultaneously ("synchronically"). I presume it is harder to create a reaction like laughter, that needs a buildup, with a medium in which everything is visible at once. However, I stand convinced of the humorous expressive power of pictures after having seen a great photo spread of the Little Britain actors in UK Vogue last month (for those foreign to the series, LB is a BBC sketch comedy act figuring various impersonations of British type characters).

    So who laughs in the museums?
     
  2. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    I find some of Edward Weston's photographs very funny.
    juan
     
  3. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    Have a look at Elliot Erwitt's dog pictures and the series he did in museums, I think many are hilarious. I guess the question that will be asked is are his images fine art. I think they are but I've no doubt that many don't. Perhaps this is another can of worms waiting to be opened.
     
  4. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    It's art!! It's art!!

    It's rare to find photos that are 'laugh out loud" funny, but I think photography lends itself to a more subtle humor, and when done well can be very effective. I find humor in a couple of Sally Mann's photos, certainly in Erwitt. An obscure photographer, Phil Perkis. Even Lee Friedlander, or Winogrand.

    Sometimes, the humor gets a little dark, too...
     
  5. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    Laughter is just as valid an emotional response as any other, so yes, humour has a place in photography. Just as it has a place in all art forms.
     
  6. medform-norm

    medform-norm Member

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    Maybe you've been seeing the wrong exhibitions? We laugh all the time in museums. Try seeing some Henri L'Artique for instance - very amusing. Personally, we really like some photo's by swiss based artists Fischli & Weiss. I could enumerate a few others if you'd want, but all depends on your own sense of humour as well. Alas, from this distance, I can't judge to what sort of humourous types you belong. And then, some may laugh where others fail to see the humour. Happens all too often. An example: Gilbert & George's photo works is funny to some, pointless to others.

    But on the whole: humour and art are not by definition mutually exclusive, so there is no reason why there couldn't be photographs as works of art that are also funny or even hilarious.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 30, 2005
  7. Helen B

    Helen B Member

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    I agree with Suzanne about photography lending itself to subtle, quiet humour more than the laugh out loud stuff - not that the laugh out loud stuff doesn't exist. I think that there is also a subtle visual wit going on in a lot of photography.

    Paul Hill, Martin Parr and Ray Moore all strike me as having (had) a particular sense of humour that comes out in their photography. Oh, and Greg Lucas. The photographers already mentioned in this thread. The list could go on and on. Some people even found my 'Roadworks', 'Tissue Boxes' and 'Discarded Vegetables' series funny, and don't you dare suggest that those snaps weren't art. Oops. No, I mean, don't you dare suggest that they were art.

    So, Frank, does humor belong in music?

    Best,
    Helen
     
  8. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    doisneau !
     
  9. jp80874

    jp80874 Subscriber

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    Jacques Henri Lartigue
     
  10. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Helen, your Pier 54 photo is actually really amusing, and it's gorgeous as well, so I guess we could put it nearer the funny & (not-)art categories.

    Suzanne has a good point on the general subtlety of humour in photo. As Juan pointed, some of Weston's pictures are quite funny: some that come to mind are those representing sink siphons and water pumps, which resemble erect or sagging men privates. In the same vein, I'd say that Marcel Duchamp's urinal is utterly funny, by its absurd inappropriateness (well, back then it was inappropriate!) and the joke it is also playing on the audience.

    I do not know some of the names mentionned in this thread so I will surely look them up.

    I think the question is rather: Does Frank belong in music? :wink:
     
  11. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    One of my favourite images was featured in B&WP UK (AKA Ailsa's Rag, and I still say that should be a musical title!) a while back.

    It was a very well-composed and nicely printed study juxtaposing a bicycle shock-absorber in front of the Eiffel Tower. Of course, it is difficult to go wrong with Spring in Paris...
     
  12. André E.C.

    André E.C. Member

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    Humor belongs everywhere!

    Cheers

    André
     
  13. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Ya took the words right out of my mouth........it must have been while you were kissing me...



    Michael
     
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  15. papagene

    papagene Membership Council Council

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    A-yup... humor belongs in photography (and art - Red Grooms, Oldenberg and others). But me, all my work is so serious, humor has no place in it! :wink:
    Psssst... politicians are one of my favorite subjects.

    gene
     
  16. roy

    roy Member

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    I do not understand why the phrase "a work of art" has to be applied to the image. I agree with Les but offer a look at some of Cartier Bresson's photographs. Whether they are regarded as being works of art I am not qualified to say but some are very humerous.
     
  17. Charles Webb

    Charles Webb Member

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    I see humor in most everything, excluding death and taxes. I believe that if we lose our sense of humor we have lost All. My opinion!
     
  18. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

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    ABSOLUTELY!!!!
     
  19. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    Hey Michael...isn't that from a Meat Loaf song......:wink:

    Murray
     
  20. modafoto

    modafoto Subscriber

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    Photography is a serious thing! No humour to be present there! If you cannot take it serious then go away!
    :D:D:D:D:D:D

    We are Dilute Elitists!
     
  21. modafoto

    modafoto Subscriber

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    My photos are not intended to be funny, but people laugh a lot when they see them...:smile:
     
  22. roy

    roy Member

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    At least you have achieved something. I usually get criticism !
     
  23. 127

    127 Member

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    I immedialty thought of William Wegman's dog image which was included in the Aperture retrospective (which I was lucky enough to see in LA last month - totally brilliant show).

    They're funny, and by all reasonable grounds should be discardable as cheap and crass images, with no place in an art gallery.

    HOWEVER they're so brilliantly composed and executed that they compell a closer look.

    Ian
     
  24. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Morten, you've understood the essence of humour: oneself!

    Gotta say I'm surprised by the amount of loud-mouthed yesses, even you Nicole, whom I usually hear in a delicate whisper, have raised the decibel barrier to an affirmative level.

    For my part I believe that humour always belonged to art; the Gilgamesh epic is the oldest joke about that guy who managed to find the cure for mortality, but then went to have a bath and forgot to bring it with him, so that a snake just snatched it and men had to be mortal again. You could make a great stand-up set with it.
     
  25. gandolfi

    gandolfi Member

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    my identical twin is th emost funny photographer I have come across.
    Strange - corny - suttle - loud....

    photography is in my opinion, one of the last fronteers (in the art world) where humour can be experienced and accepted - let's embrace it...

    (attached an image that often is mistakenly concieved as funny... it is not - this is photo journalialism at it's hight..)
     

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  26. B-3

    B-3 Member

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    I find many of the threads and posts here on APUG to be highly amusing.