Does humour belong in Photography?
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?
I find some of Edward Weston's photographs very funny.
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.
It's art!! It's art!!
Originally Posted by Les McLean
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...
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.
Anáil nathrach, ortha bháis is beatha, do chéal déanaimh.
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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.
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.
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 medform-norm; 08-30-2005 at 02:17 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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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?
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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?