Dissertation: Humour in Art Photography.
Name: Peter Hung.
FdA/BA (Hons) Photography.
University Centre at Blackburn College.
- Chapter 1: What is Humour?
- Chapter 2: Science and Psychology of Humour.
- Chapter 3: Theory of Humour.
- Chapter 4: Observational Humour.
- Chapter 5: Humour in Postmodernism.
- Chapter 6: Mechanisms of Comedy.
- Chapter 7: ‘Visual Irony’.
- Chapter 8: ‘Juxtaposition’.
- Chapter 9: ‘The Decisive Moment’.
- Chapter 10: Observational Humour in Photography.
- Chapter 11: Possible History of Humour in Art Photography.
- Chapter 12: Sources of humour in photography.
This dissertation will examine humour in art photography which involves researching art photography, photographic techniques and subject matter that can inform us as humorous. Like the work of photographers that displays a sense of humour, the photographs that are humorous, real photography that is funny especially if it takes a couple of beats to figure out is usually quite compelling to view. Being ‘funny’ is a difficult thing to achieve in your work as a photographer, “Some people think my pictures are funny. I didn’t realise that. It’s hard to be funny.” Most good photography that is in the public domain is ‘serious’ in concept, I want to approach the perspective of photography within my dissertation by looking at examples of photography that have content that provokes humour.
Photography covers numerous purposes ranging from justice, medical, scientific, historical, documentary, photo-journalism, topographies, criminal records, business, advertising, photo manipulation, photo art, photo montage, pictorial photography, fashion, television and an almost limitless, various other creative uses. We are noticing that the bulk of photography primarily focuses on significant open sources which take a serious overtone. I believe that there is also a ‘fun’ side of photography. We can find humour in photography since the earlier days of photography; some of the work which was seen serious at the time is no longer severe and could be passed as humorous, respectively some of the photography that was seen as humorous at the time could be disregarded or frowned upon in our modern times “…it is helpful to remember that we are looking back to when ‘good taste’, ‘good manners’ and ‘good form’ were based on standards that were very different from today’s – to times when the rich and powerful employed fools, physical deformity was a legitimate source of amusement, and the social elite might entertain themselves by visiting insane asylums to taunt the inmates. Even torture and executions were public events often conducted in a carnival atmosphere complete with snacks and refreshments. Upper and lower classes alike could revel in the knowledge that there were always those pathetic few who were less fortunate than themselves.” Alternatively, there are photos that individual viewers react as though they are humorous photographs yet others do not perceive them that way.
Photographers such as Elliott Erwitt, Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rene Maltete, Matt Stuart, Richard Kalvar, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and David LaChapelle among others will be researched to find evidence of humour in art photography. A generalised depiction of what is funny, what makes something funny and the techniques used to capture the humour in art photography and its content. I will illustrate using photographs to see if there are any familiar and repetitive structural elements in the different photos.
This dissertation will outline what humour is, looking
at evidence taken from theoretical research whereby examination of humour and
laughter will allow for the establishment of a generalised understanding of the
topic. The aim is to find plausible
theories that can relate to photography, define humour as a subject for
discussion in the content of the dissertation and make my ideas accessible
through the primary discourse. Several
examples of photography showing work that has humorous content are
illustrations within a separate chapter.
A brief look at the substance of each photograph and an explanation
detailing what makes them photographs of humour. The purpose of this is to give
understanding to the topic of humour in art photography providing significant
and concise information required to understand and interpret humorous art
Chapter 1: What is Humour?
When was the last time you laughed? How many times did you laugh today? Laughing occurs a lot during our lifetime and there are several reasons why we laugh. Some things make us smile and feel good emotions, and these are the ingredients of humour. Humour can also refer to the funny, witty, hilarious or amusing. Merriam-Webster’s online Dictionary gives us three distinct interpretations of the word ‘humor’, “1 a : a normal functioning bodily semifluid or fluid (as the blood or lymph), b : a secretion (as a hormone) that is an excitant of activity. 2 a : in medieval physiology : a fluid or juice of an animal or plant; specifically : one of the four fluids entering into the constitution of the body and determining by their relative proportions a person’s health and temperament, b : characteristic or habitual disposition or bent : temperament <of cheerful humor>, c : an often temporary state of mind imposed especially by circumstances <was in no humor to listen>, d : a sudden, unpredictable, or unreasoning inclination : whim. 3 a : that quality which appeals to a sense of the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous, b : the mental faculty of discovering, expressing, or appreciating the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous, c : something that is or is designed to be comical or amusing”. For the purpose of this dissertation when I use the word ‘humour’ or ‘humor’ I am referring to 3 (a, b, & c).
We all love to laugh and humour has become a source of entertainment that people make a living from as a professional career pursuit. Comedians are a great example of this, Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Billy Connelly, Lee Evans, these are to name a few. At one point they were stand-up comedians working the stage in front of thousands of spectators, they have all starred in Hollywood movies. Other sources of humour are more easily accessible such as a Grandfather making funny faces at his family or maybe someone like a politician making a cleverly arranged punch line to something he said. We find humour everywhere from the television to the supermarket.
Some humour is more likely to create strong emotions whereas some might only make a person smile. A real source of fun is the type that produces a usual reaction to a broad range of individuals. A single piece of humour can arouse a response in a lot of people rather than just a single person, and this is because most people have a common ‘sense of humour’. A more generalised depiction of humour is probably more universal, a ‘Sense of humour’ is something we refer to that describes what kind of mood an individual requires evoking a particular set of emotions. These emotions usually bring happiness, laughter, smiling and good feelings (for example the feeling and state of mirth), and this is why people can differ in their ‘sense of humour’. One person may find one thing funny but another person may not find the same thing funny. For the remainder of this dissertation when I refer to humour I am addressing a ‘common’ and ‘universal’ sense of humour that most people can relate to.
“DESPITE THE FACT THAT HUMOR PLAYS AN IMPORTANT PART in our lives, there isn’t a lot of literature on the psychology of comedy. Over the centuries, philosophers have devoted only a small portion of their logic to understanding what laughter means, why we tell jokes, and why we do or don’t appreciate other people’s humor.”
Humour has become a part of our daily lives and is also known to be a part of a healthier lifestyle. Laughter serves a social function, several universal language components bring humans together; crying in response to pain, screaming in response to fear, laughter is the universal bonding mechanism. ‘We are born with the capacity to laugh’, we smile and laugh unconsciously, laughter is a message we send to others. Laughter is thought to be a type of rhetoric to some individuals, smiling sends out the message that it is safe to relax, safe to play. “Laughter is part of the universal human vocabulary. All members of the human species understand it. Unlike English, Spanish or Swahili, we don’t have to learn to speak it. We are born with the capacity to laugh. One of the remarkable things about laughter, is that it occurs unconsciously. You don’t decide to do it. While we can consciously inhibit it, we do not consciously produce laughter. That’s why it’s very hard to laugh on command, or to fake laughter. (Don’t take my word for it: Ask a friend to laugh on the spot). Laughter provides powerful, uncensored insights into our unconscious. It simply bubbles up from within us in certain situations.”
Laughter is an expression and there are different types of laughter. “Your laugh has its own particular rhythm, pitch, pace, volume and duration that is absolutely unique to you. Like the call of a bird in the wild, your laugh is your own password, imprint and signal.”
If laughing is so much a part of our lives, then what is it that triggers laughter? When you ask someone why they laughed, they would usually tell you that it is because something was ‘funny’. There are many reasons for laughter and in general, laughter occurs when there are jokes made, when something funny happens or when it seems to serve some form of purpose in a social context. At least, what we assume is that if we laughed, something is funny. Some research, however, argues that this is only an assumption. In science researchers like Provine have found that we don’t laugh at funny, laughing is not about funny “..’Most laughter is not in response to jokes or humor,’ says Robert R. Provine, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Provine should know. He has conducted a number of studies of laughter and authored the book Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. One of his central arguments is that humor and laughter are not inseparable.
Provine did a survey of laughter in the wild — he and some graduate students listened in on average conversations in public places and made notes. And in a survey of 1,200 ‘laugh episodes,’ he found that only 10%-20% of laughs were generated by anything resembling a joke.
The other 80%-90% of comments that received a laugh were dull non-witticisms like, ‘I’ll see you guys later’ and ‘It was nice meeting you, too.’ So why the laughs?
Provine argues it has to do with the evolutionary development of laughter. In humans, laughter predates speech by perhaps millions of years. Before our human ancestors could talk with each other, laughter was a simpler method of communication, he tells WebMD.”
In contrast, to laughter, humour could be thought of like the topic or theme to which gives rise to laughter. It is indeed important that laughter is an essential ingredient of humour. We have arrived at
issue where we realise the two are connected and that the emotions involved with humour are, in
fact, related to laughter. A ‘sense of humour’ which can be different from person to person is defined here as a subsection of humour and laughter as a whole. It is important that when we discuss the
humour from this point forward, I am referring to a generalised and shared ‘sense of humour’ that ‘most individuals can understand’. The definition we will be using for ‘humour’ has been outlined, and we may now move on to laughter
as a topic for understanding.
Chapter 2: Science & Psychology of Humour.
Having defined laughter as an integral fragment of humour it is important we define what laughter is. Laughing is something that communicates a message to us, we even recognise laughter when we hear the laughter of animals. Monkeys are thought to be able to laugh and hyenas too. But scientists have researched into whether these animals really
are in fact, laughing or not.
FIG.2 “Laughter might not be confined or unique to humans. The differences between chimpanzee and human laughter may be the result of adaptations that have evolved to enable human speech. Self-awareness of one’s situation as seen in the mirror test, or the ability to identify with another’s predicament (see mirror neurons), are prerequisites for laughter,  so animals may be laughing in the same way as humans do.”
Provine suggests that the evolution of laughter arose from ‘rough-and-tumble’ play in primates.
He describes how “What Darwin, Fossey, and others agree upon is that chimpanzees and other great apes produce a laughlike vocalization in circumstances (i.e., being tickled, playing rough-and-tumble) in which humans reliably laugh.” However, he is not so naïve as to not notice our differences that set us apart “Although chimpanzees are the animals most like ourselves, they differ fundamentally from us in their lack of spoken language, and lacking language, they probably lack the capacity for abstract thought necessary for most humor as we know it.” FIG.3
The distinction here of course arises with the thought of tickling and of course the difference being the language barrier and ‘abstract thought’ capacity between chimp and human but what about other animals? Are they too also able to laugh or are they just vocalizations that have no role in humour?
“The spotted hyena has an extensive vocal range, with sounds ranging from whoops, fast whoops, grunts, groans, lows, giggles, yells, growls, soft grunt-laughs, loud grunt-laughs, whines and soft squeals. The loud “who-oop” call, along with the maniacal laughter, are among the most recognisable sounds of Africa. Typically, very high-pitched calls indicate fear or submission, while loud, lower-pitched calls express aggression. The pitch of the laugh indicates the hyena’s age, while variations in the frequency of notes used when hyenas make noises convey information about the animal’s social rank.” I think most of us would not want to discover what a Hyena is laughing at if we bumped into one on our path. With chimpanzees being the more intelligent of these two animals and our evidence shows that “Nevertheless, chimp laughter is probably less social than in humans” it would be fair to discern that Hyenas are probably not actually laughing in regards to humour.
The meaning in animal laughter may differ from human laughter but laughter for humans definitely relates to humour. We all know and understand that laughing signals that there is humour present and because laughter is heard almost every day we are aware that humour is an important part of our lives. Sometimes when somebody laughs, to better comprehend the laughter, someone else will ask the question “Why are you laughing?”
People laugh when reading books, looking at photographs and watching media but “Provine, like Bergson, came to the conclusion that laughter in solitude without an audience practically doesn’t exist.” “According to Bergson, laughter loses all meaning outside the social group.” Laughter unconsciously gives the signal “Hi, I’d like to bond with you socially.” With regards to understanding communication laughter seeks to demonstrate a mood in which other humans can relate, this mood is one that communicates safety and play. But laughter in a social context also serves as a bonding mechanism and communicates that there is some form of rhetoric happening between two humans, think of the ‘Inside Joke’.
In avian species, the male tends to call the females to mate. If we look at laughter like birdsong, then there are similarities in what role the laughter plays in our lives. “Birdsong is a trait that’s driven by sexual selection, a kind of natural selection that involves competition within a species for mating opportunities. Male birds use songs for two purposes: to attract females and to warn away other males who might poach on their territory. In both cases, a good song can help a male bird father more offspring.”
Like laughing, birdsong releases chemicals in birds, Provine goes so far as to allude to laughter having a role in the sexual selection of humans as mention in his book Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, “There are no gender-free human encounters. When someone laughs, someone else is usually present, and the gender of that person must be taken into account to understand the social dynamics of laughter. Linguist Deborah Tannen pointed out the significance of gender differences in conversational styles in her best-selling book You Just Don’t Understand” and “Ticklish relationships have a strong heterosexual character.” I’m not suggesting this has any bearing on the humour in photography rather it is still an interesting finding.
“Birds have a release of hormones every year. This primes them before the mating season and the effect is substantially important for their existence. ‘Scientists found cells near the pituitary gland release a hormone in the spring in readiness for mating. The bird then begins to sing more often to attract potential mating partners, the experts tell the Journal Nature.’”
A similar biological response occurs within humans, when we laugh, certain hormones are released that communicate to us on an unconscious level. These hormones allow us to feel safe, playful, relaxed and in a happier mood altogether. “The answer, reports Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford, is not the intellectual pleasure of cerebral humor, but the physical act of laughing. The simple muscular exertions involved in producing the familiar ha, ha, ha, he said, trigger an increase in endorphins, the brain chemicals known for their feel-good effect.” ‘This feeling can become addictive and so people purposely and subconsciously seek out things that make them laugh. We search for humour.’ ‘There is a theory that laughter is part of the ‘mind-body connection’, aids therapeutic healing and overall self-improvement. It was made popular by the book of Proverbs in the Bible.’ “The idea that laughter is therapeutic has existed since antiquity but in recent decades has been popularized by Norman Cousins in his 1976 article ‘Anotomy of an Illness (As Perceived by the Patient)’ published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and expanded into a book in 1979. In his book Cousins describes his affliction with painful and life-threatening degenerative disease (ankylosing spondylitis), and his successful self-treatment with vitamin C, the Marx Brothers, and episodes from the old and very funny television series Candid Camera.” ‘There are many benefits of laughter including reduced stress, the release of fear and release of hormones.’
have come quite along way in determining humour including inspection of it’s
integral behaviour, laughter. We’ve
looked at animal laughter and differentiated it from our human counterparts
while interestingly made findings about the sexual selection of mates and the
role humour has in this aspect of our lives.
In light of this we could ask questions like ‘Does gender have a role in
the selection of photographic content in humorous photography?’, ’Could a
photograph be funnier if you are in the presence of the opposite sex?’, ‘Could
a photo lead to mating opportunities given the content?’ or my burning question
‘Would I laugh at a funny photograph if I was on my own?’ Obviously these questions would be subject
for a separate project, they are interesting findings. We will move away from this to further
examine the theory of humour.
Chapter 3: Theory of Humour.
The theory of humour dates back to writings in older philosophy, “The study of laughter dates from the first efforts of our species at self-contemplation and is documented in the most ancient philosophical writings. The earliest surviving theory of laughter is from Plato (427-348 B.C.), one of the first and foremost of history’s men of letters. Plato’s considerable attention to laughter derived more from his fear of power to disrupt the state than from delight with its practice.” There have been many professionals in the past who have devoted time and knowledge to the understanding of humour. ‘Great philosophers and scientists such as Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer have all written and shown interest in understanding humour. Charles Darwin touched on humour in one of his essays and even the great psychoanalyst himself Sigmund Freud also devoted time and effort to the same cause.’ “Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes, Kant, Schopenhauer, Darwin, Freud, and Bergson.”
However, for a fresh perspective we will identify some commonalities between some of the contemporary ideas on the topic, “Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) developed the views of Plato and Aristotle that laughter has bearing on one’s social status and superiority over one’s peers.” And this is further empowered by the idea that “laughter is an expression of sudden triumph, caused by a no less sudden feeling of superiority over others or over one’s past.” Laughing in general though is not the whole spectrum of humour, it is just one indicator of humour being present. The importance that laughter plays in our lives is not explored and analysed to any definite understanding, however, the importance stays embedded in our personalities and psyches regardless. Not many would agree that laughing is dangerous although there are stories in history that say people have died from laughter. “One ancient account of the death of Chrysippus, the 3rd century BC Greek Stoic philosopher, tells that he died of laughter after he saw a donkey eating his figs; he told a slave to give the donkey neat wine with which to wash them down, and then, “…having laughed too much, he died” (Diogenes Laertius 7.185).”
Humour serves as an important function to us as human
beings, there is no single all-encompassing theory of humour that we can agree,
there are writings on the topic and some have similarities, unfortunately,
though, there is no point of reference that distinguishes the exact formula or
theory of humour, or why we laugh. Bear in mind, though, that it is still
currently speculated whether certain theories about laughter and humour are
ultimately the only reasons but rather a deconstruction and analysis of
Chapter 4: Observational Humour.
Observational humour is something that has been around for centuries. Sometimes the sight of a loved one falling over in some ridiculous manner triggers a response in the brain that causes one to begin laughing. We might not understand why we are laughing but it is something we do. Observational humour has become something of the entertainment world too. Early Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Laurel & Hardy movies involved jokes communicated visually, earlier still were Punch & Judy. “In observational humor, the humorist focuses a laser beam on a realistic action or logical thought with the sole purpose of trying to destroy it.” It is this kind of humour that some photography mostly contains. A picture of a monkey or a donkey smiling funnily could, for example, make a child laugh. The big teeth and strange humanlike coincidence makes a substantial impact on how the child understands the animal in the picture.
There is a television programme that runs through from beginning to end showing video clips of humorous events and situations. The programme aired in the UK and is called ‘You’ve Been Framed’, there is also ‘Rude Tube’. These particular shows are primarily observational humour. The source of the humour presentation is home video footage. The events and situations showed in the videos range in variation and some clips funnier than others. Cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry are famous for their entertainment purposes, this type of entertainment is also observational.
In photography, there are elements of humour caused by different mechanisms of humour contained within an individual photograph. Humour as an ingredient of photography can allow the viewer to perceptually interpret in various ways, some may view an image – smile and be amused, some may not. A viewer of a photograph that contains humour may find themselves analysing what it was that made them understand that the photo provided fun, leading to a gestalt evaluation. “Every photograph is the photographer’s opinion about something. It’s how they feel about something: what they think is horrible, tragic, funny.” There are also photographs that make us look at the content and think about ourselves coming to the idea that the photographer is original or very witty. Humour is made up of different types and people identify with the type they feel most suited. In photography humour is mostly based on the visual experience but what are these mechanisms of humour that make us understand that there is humour in a photograph? What is it that a viewer finds funny so that from the perspective of a photographer humour is a valuable ingredient to photography?
For a long part of history, humour has been made up in the art form, cartoonists are exquisite at making a joke from a combination of characters and visually described elements. They use observational humour and although photography is a little bit different, visual principles of humour are shared by both. Photography on the first hand is more tangible arising from real people, real events and is a documentary medium. ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson saw photography as a way of drawing with light.’ “For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity.” I propose then that humour obviously had a natural transition into photography. Photographers can also arrange a photograph that contains humour and a good example would be the work by David LaChapelle.
Photography mostly judged on the merits of composition,
storytelling, technique and technology on its surface, is all you get but the
whole idea of taking a picture with a camera is to create something visually
pleasurable, and humour is wicked when captured by the use of a camera. It is a visual treat because it gives the
senses a feast, it gives the mind new possibilities and feeds the imagination. “The only way to survive is to have a
sense of humour.”
Chapter 5: Humour in Postmodernism.
We can certainly agree that people make a living from humour. In the postmodern movements humour is also an essential component of narrative and a tool in postmodern discourse. Much of postmodern literature incorporates the elements of irony, satire, black humour, sick humour and dismissal of factual information biased towards creating meta-narratives that lead to other preconceived outcomes of interpretation. In her paper about ‘Humorous Elements Inherent in Postmodernist Works’, Clair E Jones opens her writing with, “Postmodernism influences contemporary life in countless ways as seen in literature, art, and popular culture. To achieve this permeation, many elements contribute to how postmodern concepts are portrayed. This includes the rejection of objective truth, attacks on sharp classifications, a collapse of cultural hierarchies, and the undermining of frames of reference. Authors and artists depict these through the use of intertextuality, fragmentation, wordplay, and elaborate self-reference. Coincidentally, all of these techniques are also utilized in the creation of humor. Comedy parallels postmodernism in its use of reflections or imitations of reality, surprise/misdirection, contradiction/paradox, and ambiguity. This integration is exploited much to their advantage by authors like Thomas Pynchon and Alison Bechdel, along with artists such as Lawrence Weiner and Bruce Nauman.”
FIG.10 She identifies that in Pynchon’s Crying Lot of 49 that “Colons, semi-colons, and commas gently, rhythmically tug the reader along through convoluted paragraphs. These labyrinthine concepts are major factors not only in postmodernism, but also in humor. It is common for one to utilize misdirection/surprise and ambiguity when creating a humorous situation. Metaphor is especially an effective way to convey comicality.
Pynchon also repeats “or’s” throughout the novel, suggesting diverging possibilities – alternate paths in the maze. They also heighten the ambiguity present in the narration. His mazy prose is especially prominent in the description of The Courier’s Tragedy. The narrated version is no less confusing than the unlooping description provided Oedipa by the Paranoids, a band that hangs around Echo Courts, and their girlfriends, ‘as strange to map as their rising coils and clouds of pot smoke’.” She also recognises and distinguishes other humour provoking elements in subsequent writing and to which, “…’Otherness’ also comes into play with the images of blacks – and blackness – that recur throughout Lot 49. Oedipa’s husband, Mucho, could not ignore the endless parade of ‘Negro, Mexican, cracker … bringing the most godawful trade-ins’ to his used car lot on another ‘pallid roaring arterial’ (Pynchon). Here blacks are one part of multi-cultural ‘salad of despair’ (Pynchon); at the Yoyodyne cafeteria they become tray-toting kitchen servants ‘preparing to feed a noontide invasion of [presumably white] Yoyodyne workers’ (Pynchon). The blacks with steady jobs Oedipa encounters include Winthrop Tremaine’s San Diego ‘niggers’ turning out swastika armbands and ‘an exhausted busful of Negroes going on to graveyard shifts all over the city,’ working jobs no one else wants (Pynchon). This ‘otherness’ recalls the postmodern tendency to attack sharp classifications such as male/female and black/white. In this way, Pynchon’s text can again be interpreted as utilizing the humorous component of contradiction/paradox.” Could this lead to the judgement that Pynchon has a distasteful sense of humour or is it a signifier of postmodern practice? These passages that Jones has referenced demonstrate the sensibility of dark humour inherent in postmodern literature. Certainly Pynchon was at the heart of this work, but Jones clarifies that, “Pynchon’s puns impact the text in the same way that the insolubility of the novel’s multiple possibilities displace binary order. Like metaphor, which ‘incites us to think and hear on more than one level concurrently’, the act of punning, too, is ‘a thrust at truth and a lie.’ Lot 49 refuses to rest at any pole of meaning despite Oedipa’s efforts. It prefers to misdirect and confuse in a very postmodernism and humorous fashion. Other wordplay present in the novel highlights the comical methods of paradox:
‘She stood between the public [phone] booth and the rented car, in the night, her isolation complete, and tried to face toward the sea. But she’s lost her bearings. She turned, pivoting on one stacked heel, could find no mountains either. As if there could be no barriers between herself and the rest of the land.’
Oedipa ironically reconnects with the surrounding landscape by becoming lost within it. Here, Pynchon lets ‘desolate,’ ‘isolation,’ and ‘lost’ resonate together, emphasizing the dissolution of boundaries taking place for Oedipa. Lost is etymologically related to Old English los – a loosening, or breaking up – and though Oedipa has just nearly dissolved herself with bourbon (driving a sightless car down a midnight L.A. freeway), what really begins to loosen are the barriers that have isolated her from her surroundings.” We here find that Pynchon is detailing something ‘other’ than the lines of the story, is he symbolically misrepresenting something to evoke certain ideas? The word ‘pun’ is a special one that many joke writers know too well, universally known is that the pun of the joke is what ‘makes or breaks it’. Is Pynchon using metaphor? The use of puns in postmodern work could then be questionable as to whether they are jokes or not, whether they are tools of creating meta-narratives, and intertextuality, maybe. Is a joke without a pun still a joke? The word pun according to dictionary.com is “1. the humorous use of a word or phrase so as to emphasize or suggest its different meanings or applications, or the use of words that are alike or nearly alike in sound but different in meaning; a play on words. 2. the word or phrase used in this way.”
Humour, in general, is a complex and intricate subject, and it embodies many less than desirable artifice that occurs daily in communication and events. Jones draws comparisons of humour and postmodernism in ways that demonstrate just how intertwined and similar they are. It could presumably be that all wordplay incorporates the same underlying comical methods that she outlines but is evident in postmodernism in which many successful artists, writers and creative-minded individuals all adhered. Further, to the postmodern similarities to humour, she goes on to discuss another source, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, “It contained ‘mirrors, distracting bronzes, multiple doorways. Visitors often got lost upstairs’.” and “Like Pynchon’s Oedipa, Bechdel has multiple viewpoints in this labyrinth. In her childhood, she identifies more readily with Theseus or Icarus, yet, as an adult, she can be identified with Daedalus. As Theseus, she is lost within her own house: ‘That our house was not a real home, but the simulacrum of one, a museum … we were really a family [though], and we really did live in those period rooms’.”
She goes on to refer to an illustration by Bechdel whereby it depicts a child drawing in a room seen from a window by the viewer, in the adjacent window, is her father reading a book titled ‘Zelda’. FIG.11
They are “…occupying the same space yet engaged in separate pursuits (Fig.11).” This is all more visual though than literary, ‘Bechdel’s exploration of media, such as drawings and photographs, draws attention to the visual dimension of the narrative. As a result, she slows down time and poses her subjects almost to reinforce the idea that it is her controlling, Daedalian-like vision that determines what the reader sees on the page. This is especially seen in the last page where she deliberately reconstructs and reverses the photograph with which it begins. She has flipped the picture to peer through the other side, impossible, of course, except through an act of the imagination. Also like Oedipa, Bechdel is linked to the ‘otherness’ of the minotaur: ‘I am a lesbian’. This ‘otherness’ again links father and daughter; they are intertwined in a way that does not allow easy binary distinction concerning sexuality, obsession and art, or the contrast between closeted homosexuals and those who have ‘come out’. Again, these oppositions call into mind the contradicting/paradoxical and ambiguous features of humor previously discussed. Here, though, it is portrayed in a darker fashion and, as a result, Fun Home maintains the sense of self-deprecating humor that is the hallmark of Bechdel’s other work, Dykes to Watch Out For.” There is a sense of ‘poking fun’ at the viewer in this understanding of Bechdel’s work. While drawing similarities between Bechdel and Pynchon’s works Jones once again describes more interconnections of humour and postmodernism. The ’self-deprecating humour’, ‘paradoxical/contradicting factors’ lead to an interpretation of postmodern practice that occurs through its faculties such as that of the ‘otherness’, it’s ambiguity, it’s irony and so on. She later describes, “Pastiche and intertextuality can be seen in both Bechdel and Pynchon’s works as a ‘pasting’ together of multiple elements. This connects cunnilingus and the Odyssey, Watergate and masturbation, and pop culture references and fictional history seen in Lot 49. It all again binds postmodernism with humor as being reflective of reality and highlights the contradictions inherent in comedy.” Pastiche is described as almost ‘imitation of other works of art’ according to Oxford Dictionaries and also ‘a medley of other sources’ which gives us an understanding of how combining different elements leads us to a similar points of cognitive conversion. And she summarises the short paper by saying, “High culture (art) and low culture (food/billboard-type visuals) are combined in both works, employing the pastiche also previously examined. All of these elements combine to contribute to the inherent humor revealed in postmodernism.
It is not difficult to come to the finding that, when combining these discussions of literature and art, postmodernism is both self-reflexive and an imitation of reality. It has permeated our culture through the use of intertextuality, fragmentation, wordplay, contradiction, and ambiguity. In this sense, postmodernism and its foundations parallel our culture’s engagement with comedy. Humor not only utilizes metaphor, puns, and general use of wit, but it provides a cathartic release for the audience through the deconstruction of boundaries. This subversion of structure is exactly what postmodernism primarily focuses on and it definitively emphasizes the multiculturalism present in today’s culture.”
We now know that
there are parallels between humour and postmodernism and in so far as to know
we are keen to select essential components of the similarities. In the paper by Jones, she makes clear
distinctions of the ‘intertextuality’, ‘fragmentation, ‘contradiction’, and ‘wordplay’
of postmodern work as essential components of humour. In this way, we can come to a shared
experience of knowing that these elements (or ingredients) lead to the
‘interpretation’ of the work. By
contrasting postmodernism in this way with humour, I am proposing that these
features become a part of analysis through image content examination. The differences whereby these components can
translate to images would be relatable to understanding the subjective
experience of the viewer of a photograph using a judgment of the picture
elements and content; Context, subject matter, the interaction between subject
and surroundings, pastiche of the primary subject and its relation to other
component parts, contradiction, ambiguity, etc.
I will be going into more detail in later writing concentrating on the
relation of visual irony, juxtaposition and decisive moment in which I
understand to be similar to the analysis and meanings of the ‘intertextuality’,
‘fragmentation’, ‘contradiction’, and ‘wordplay’, yet in a visual sense.
Chapter 6: Mechanisms of Comedy.
We see the humour in portraits, fashion and street photography, by contrast, we hardly see the humour in landscape photography and photojournalism although it does exist in the latter. Usually, when we notice humour in photography, there is a human element in the photograph, this is a personal theory but I have found certain complementary ideas that outline the importance of human elements. “What is the nature of a laughing relationship-the association necessary for a stimulus object, organism, or person to be considered funny (i.e., trigger laughter)? Most of us can envision a social relationship with a pet dog or cat, honorary members of our social world. We play with these creatures and may even laugh at them-the more humanlike their behaviour, the funnier we perceive them.”
Another mechanism for humour is the character. Sometimes the character can be enough to make a person laugh. Sometimes the character establishes a whole photographs theme, a photographer can sometimes capture the character of an individual in a portrait.
Because there are so many characters in the world we can identify with them and sympathise or we can view them as they are and find the subject funny. In today’s world we have pigeonholed different types of people from all walks of life and sometimes a portrait of someone may freeze an individual in a way that the expectations of stereotypical views show us a ‘label’, this is often enough to understand the humour in a photograph like this.
One mechanism for humour in a photograph is surrealism. When we look at a picture, we expect a certain amount of solid factual, true to reality, authentic content but when that content seems fictional in any way, it creates a new awareness in the viewer. Surrealistic photographs can also perceptually be altered with a thought of humour in mind, what’s going on in these photos is more than meets the eye. It looks real but it has impossible elements.
Clownish behaviour, fun-lovingness, and comedy are all distinct mechanisms for humour photography. Early examples of this could be the Laurel and Hardy stills. Slapstick comedy and fun behaviour of models or bizarre subjects in photography can create a message of humour when visually translated. Many photographers have taken photos where there is evidence of fun in the content of the photographs, photos of people laughing are also included in this and sometimes seeing someone laughing can provoke a laugh. “..‘Laugh and the world laughs with you’ (Ella Wilcox, 1850-1919) ..When we hear laughter, we tend to laugh in turn, producing a behavioural chain reaction that sweeps through a group, creating a crescendo of jocularity or ridicule.” Not all laughter is especially innocent or innocuous though. Provine listed a ‘Laughter Inventory’ in his book Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, what he was detailing though was the criteria for ‘Abnormal and Inappropriate Laughter’.
- Laugh structure: a measure of vocalization as described by the laugh-notes per episode, duration of laugh-notes and internote-intervals, and the frequency, amplitude, and harmonic composition of laugh-notes. (This is the only measure that requires diagnostic equipment.)
- Linguistic context of laughter: an index of the integrity of the punctuation effect in both speaker and audience, the tendency of laughter to be placed at the end of phrases and other pauses in speech.
- Social context of laughter: the proportion of laughter occurring in social as opposed to solitary settings, and the appropriateness of laughter’s social circumstance.
- Humorous context of laughter: the style of comedic stimuli that triggers laughter or is used to produce laughter in others.
- Contagiousness of laughter: an index of the responsiveness to laughter produced during conversation or to that produced by a device such as a laugh box.
- Tickle-evoked laughter: the amount and quality of laughter produced when tickled or when tickling another person. (This measure is most appropriate for young children, and the tickling should occur between individuals whose relationship includes consensual touching.)”
Absurdity is another mechanism for humour. Absurdity arises a lot in daily life but we hardly laugh at it as we often don’t understand why it occurs. In images, however, absurdity gives us a more visual experience that makes us more comfortable with the strangeness of its birth. Look at the work by Richard Kalvar’s Earthlings for example. Some of the photographs capture scenes of people bent, twisted, and in all manner of abnormal positions or doing absurd things.
There are methods of the components of humour similar to those that make up the postmodern thought. For example, the theory of incongruity could be viewed as the same thing as ‘contradiction’ (see Chapter 5), “Incongruity theories predicate that humour appears as a result of understanding the discrepancy between the expected, and the achieved effect. Aristotle proposed this idea, and it was ‘discovered’ several times since by other philosophers. The most well-known adherents to this theory are Kant, Schopenhauer, Koestler, Paulos (mathematical catastrophe theory), Hazlitt, Locke, Monro, Nerhardt, Suls, Shultz, and McGhee.”
This theory could relate somewhat to the idea of a surprise triggering laughter. ‘Sometimes when a person is scared of something, unknowingly this thing that they are scared of is not really scary at all, turns out to be something not worth being afraid of, can in actuality cause a person to laugh.’ The incongruity between the states the person experiences tend to create this reaction. Another example could be that of cliché turning out differently than initial expectations. A scene of events could be expected to turn out a certain way but something abrupt happens and the switch becomes funny.
Satire is the use of wit to make improvements on something that might be held up for ridicule. It is like a spoof of something that will make appearances of that something but kind of ‘make fun’ of it, it is mostly a humorous way of looking at things in the visual arts. In photography humour may be provoked by the use of satire within its content. Satire is closely in play with sarcasm and irony and this makes for a witty sense of the word.
Within all of these mechanisms we can find they help
to cognize humour through interpretation.
The way these are communicated visually have a significant effect on the
meaning of an image. We will now move on
to a more visual approach to understanding humour in photography.
Chapter 7: ‘Visual Irony.’
So what makes us laugh in a photograph? The Incongruity Theories already mentioned are inherent within visual irony, and of ‘contradiction’ mentioned in Chapter 5. In this chapter I will draw similarities between the concepts. “To Schopenhauer, laughter arises from the perceived mismatch between the physical perception and abstract representation of something, person, or action, a concept that dates back to Aristotle. Our success at incongruity detection is celebrated with laughter.” Furthermore, it would easier to assume that visual irony assembled by words is almost quicker to interpret than visual elements not made of words.
When we see things, we normally have an expectation of how things should look or a preconceived outlook on how something is supposed to be. Fortunately, for photography things are not always this way. When we see something that is different, we can’t always point out what it is that is different, absurd even. When this happens to be funny, and is captured in the frame of the photographer’s camera, the result is a photograph containing humour. “Finding and suddenly realizing the logical mistake, especially someone else’s, is probably that switch that turns on positive emotion and its accompanying laughter – on the condition that there are no causes suppressing the positive emotion. Laughter in this case is an expression of the intellectual triumph of finding the error.”
This photograph taken by Matt Stuart at New Bond Street, London is an excellent example of visual irony. At first, our eyes see the resemblance of a peacock when in reality we see a disposal skip with a blue rain cover (the body of the peacock) and the neck and head of a peacock on a poster/bilboard behind the skip. The positioning of the visual elements is perfect for what was intended by the photographer. It was more than likely a coincidence that these objects were in this placement on New Bond Street and great that the photographer came along and photographed them this way. The way our eyes behave when we see thisimage at first glance leads us to believe one thing when something else is true, absurdity, contradiction, irony. This is a visual translation of the incongruity theories already discussed.
Visual irony can and will appear in
different ways. To go into a thorough
examination of different examples would be too grandiose of a task for me to
detail here. We now understand that irony
has a basis in the visual arts and especially in photography.
Chapter 8: ‘Juxtaposition.’
Like the ‘intertextuality’ of postmodernism Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word juxtaposition is “placed side by side: being in juxtaposition”. In photography, this usually refers to the subject matter and sometimes juxtapositions are found in photographs that create humour. Placing a subject in front of something to create visual comparison can be a technique that photographers incorporate in photographs with humour. Size differences, gender differences and so on, ‘binary distinctions’, all these things can contribute to juxtapositions. The juxtaposition is also a mechanism for the mood and final reasoning/interpretation of photographic content. We visually critique our understanding and our own meanings by ‘juxtaposing’ differing elements.
Deconstructing photography juxtapositions could allow the viewer to rationalize the same or similar understanding that the photographer observed while making the picture. This is not always true given that we all have divergent subjective experiences. Nevertheless, it is a visual technique of comparing things. In this particular context, it gives rise to a subjective experience that is shared by the photographer and the viewer. Using juxtaposition can be helpful for photographers who have roles in documentary/photojournalistic functions and also photographers who are using a conceptual ideology for their pictures.
Pertaining to juxtaposition and humour, by comparing two or more elements in a photograph the photographer can potentially evoke humour in the participation of viewer. In Fig.27, we see Marilyn Manson as shot by David LaChapelle. But in this instance, LaChapelle has changed the context of the role that Marilyn Manson is usually associated. The dark and gloomy figure stands surrounded by children with a school bus in the background. The comparison of seeing this seemingly evil person being contrasted with innocent children and a bright yellow vehicle tends to cause some dissonance in the viewer’s interpretation of the overall scene. It makes no sense; there is the incongruity of the two relatively contrasting elements, the good vs. evil dilemma if you will. Some juxtapositions are less derived from polarities such as these and are less evident in nature.
In this Photograph by Lee Friedlander which is taken from his ‘The Little Screens’ collection we see a television screen snapped at the moment the TV presenter is holding up a ‘Wanted By FBI’ sign and a mug shot of a criminal fugitive. Away from the TV set is a hunting memorabilia of a deer’s head. Obviously, there is a sense of humour within this image, whether it be a dark sense of humour as a viewer, we are not in a place to discern that. What we can interpret from viewing the image though is a visual narrative which has been a result of juxtaposition and in this particular example it could be said that the photographer intended us to view it in this way.
photographer knows how to make these distinctions very quickly before making a
photograph. By using more than one element
to tell a story the photographer becomes a storyteller. It is usually a subjective reasoning behind
the juxtaposition in a photograph, otherwise conceptual and sometimes
subconscious. This could be
debatable. What is happening is the
photographer is attempting to communicate through visual means a certain idea,
and in this sense juxtaposition is a brilliant tool for humour in photography.
Chapter 9: ‘The Decisive Moment.’
The photograph Le Gare Saint Lazare, made in 1932 was considered by some to be the ‘best photograph of the 20th Century’. Henri Cartier-Bresson was the pioneer of the term primarily used by photographers, coining the term ‘The Decisive Moment’, he named a book after it. This photograph has been a classic example of what ‘The Decisive Moment’ is, or shooting a photographic moment at it’s ‘peak potential’. Bresson possibly saw the instance of this exact moment in time before waiting for it to happen again and photographing it, however, the fact that all the elements in the photo lead to a narrative that a few have said predicted the future are all down to debate. The fact that Bresson captured this moment and shared it with the world demonstrates that ‘The Decisive Moment’ does exist.
Chapter 10: Observational Humour in Photography.
Some photographs like this one which is on the cover of Richard Kalvar’s ‘Earthlings’ is funny because of an obvious comedy element. It is observational humour. If we were to attempt to go deeper than this, we could say that the photograph contained both a touch of visual irony and juxtaposition. Typically, we don’t see flowers with human faces, let alone faces of what appears to be identical twins, the photograph tends to have that comic style and vision. It could actually be twins or maybe two same men dressed apparently in costumes to represent each other the same way; this is debatable to the viewer.
Chapter 11: A Possible History of Humour in Art Photography.
Wit and humour have been a part of photography now for over 150 years. There was an exhibition at the Vassar College presented from April 6 through June 11, 2000, that explored this theme and was called ‘Making Light: Wit and Humor in Photography.’ Instead of showing an aesthetic or historical approach it covered a more rhetoric approach to its presentation of photography. The catalogue shows a collection of photographs that are supposed to make you ‘crack up’. Such photographers as Duane Michals, Garry Winogrand, Helen Levitt, Weegee (Arthur Fellig), Hans Jorgensen, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Alfred Stieglitz were among the exhibition prints. The accompanying booklet has writing that supplements the exhibition, “The comedic, by definition, resists being taken seriously, and of any scholar who makes the attempt, it honararily makes a fool. But a sense of humor is an inalienable part of our humanity, and to look closely at its varieties and into its sources teaches us things about ourselves that the tragic arts cannot express. Freud, bleakly but influentially, saw jokes as defensive maneuvers, whereby we wind our way through an existence encircled by oblivion and haunted by fear and embarrassment. Nietzsche, more sanguinely, emphasized that those who ‘make light’ defy the gravity of the mortal condition and rise above the indulgence of self-pity to a truer view of their minor role in the universe. Marcel Duchamp’s somewhat startling apothegm ‘There is no solution, because there’s no problem’ defines an attitude that could be called the Cosmic Comic – the state of enlightenment that more or less painfully befalls Duane Michal’s ‘Man Talking to God’ (1975). It ultimately makes for a more bracing school of thought than the tragic, which would have us believe that our many problems matter very much indeed. As Mel Brooks has put it, ‘Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die’.” The range of photographs shown in the booklet (and probably more so in the exhibition) are the embodiment of an abstract view of different sensibilities and tastes of visual humour of which some I cannot personally perceive as humorous. Nevertheless, viewing the photos in this collection widens one’s perspective of the funny when it comes to photography. We could go into a whole discussion on ‘sense of humour’ and it’s cultural, environmental and social influences but in lieu of the former chapters we will move on.
Creative Camera was a British magazine publication that has gone out of print. In the April 1985 issue the theme of the magazine was humour and the subtitle of the issue was ‘Let Us Entertain You . . .’ It also gave a look at the Open Eye Exhibition Make ‘em Laugh. Ian Walker wrote an essay for the publication titled ‘Notes Around and About Photo-Humour’ which he states that “Theory is serious; humour is inevitably lightweight. Theory is IMPORTANT; humour isn’t.” It is a literal irony on the essay itself.
Of course in practical terms the essay details what steps to take in order to capture humour in a photograph along with examples, “Most fundamental of all is the power of the frame to isolate, hold and control the action within the picture. Greg Lucas in his photo of golfers in search of their ball includes both ball and golfers in a telling juxtaposition that heightens our sense of the hopeless relationship – so near and yet so far – by excluding all the superfluous elements of the environment.”
The essay describes well the theoretical components of photography and their relationship with photographing humour. The distinguished descriptions of photographs as examples, the noting of how ‘the decisive moment’ was invented for photo-humour, the range of photographic work is very knowledgeable. Photographers such as “Erwitt and Doisneau.. and Kertesz, Winogrand and Lartigue,” a rise in mentions of famous artists too, “Picasso, Duchamp, Klee, Man Ray, Magritte, Oldenburg, Lichtenstein, Wegman, Boyd Webb.” Walker relates humour to work by “metaphysical photographers like Weston, Laughlin, Uelsman and Michals..” along with written descriptive examples.
The essay also notably has references from Freud and now famous photographers. Illustrated with different photographs the essay takes up half of a page in it’s layout along with photos in the other half closing with a photograph by Paul Hill, ‘Enoch Powell and Bubblegum Boy’. It is a black and white photograph of a boy blowing a bubble with his bubblegum. In the distance but not so from the boy is a 4×4 with political election propaganda of Enoch Powell and a man visibly shouting down a microphone/speaker set up, the juxtaposition is one of humour. The magazine is filled with photographs that contain humour in some form or another from various photographers. The whole issue is dedicated to the cause.
As we have examined in this chapter there are obvious link between the
history of photography and humour being inherent in the output of the medium. To take on the task of finding every humour in
photographs since the beginning of photography would be a huge job in itself. I hope these are great enough examples to
provide you with the idea of a humorous take on ‘The Family of Man’ exhibit, or
Chapter 12: Sources of Humour in Photography.
In this chapter I will attempt to relate humour theory to photography while taking a look at several photographers in a quasi-case study style, although keeping as brief as I can. The photographers I have chosen are some of the photographers that I personally feel an inclination that their work is humorous. It is not an extensive view of the many photographers that shoot humorous photography so think of it as an introduction to humorous photography.
Case Study: Elliot Erwitt.
“Elliot Erwitt was born in France of Russian émigré parents in 1928.” In 1939 he moved to the United States. His studies in Los Angeles incorporated photography before he eventually ended up in New York City. He started his photography career during travels to France and Italy. He was then in service in the US military and continued to take photographs during this time. By this period, he had already met some of the great photographers including Robert Capa, Edward Steichen and Roy Stryker, this could be why Erwitt became a member of the prestigious Magnum Photo Agency and also stood as the agencies president several times.
He went on to make a few documentaries and a fair amount of comedies for HOME BOX OFFICE. He has created books and exhibitions and has had many publications in advertising and magazines. He has had work shown in many well-known establishments; the Museum Of Modern Art is among them. Erwitt is known to like snapping dogs and children.
On the Magnum website, Erwitt leaves vital significance to the relation between humour and art photography. “It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception. You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organising them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy.”
In this photograph by Elliot Erwitt, we observe seven men standing in front of a painting of a nude lady and a single woman looking at the same picture where the particular woman has clothes on. It shows the differences between gender roles and how they play a part in society and culture. Apparently, the woman is looking for the artistic talent of the artist’s work. However, the men tend to have a more desire driven agenda when it comes to looking at the art of the opposite sex.
This slight observation by Erwitt and the initiative to frame a photograph show a firm understanding of the differences involved between the genders in this environment. Although a gallery or exhibition could be within the domain of the public these men share the same underlying ambition to pay more attention to the painting of the naked female rather than the painting of the dressed woman, this is the primary focal point of the message that Erwitt is trying to express through this photograph. In fact, it seems all too strange that this situation took place, could Erwitt have had any part in the arrangement of this photo before it capture? Is this a genuine candid moment?
This photograph illustrates stereotypes of the ‘typical male’ and does so effectively by a comparison or intense juxtaposition which shows the wit of the photographer; it is observational in nature as it takes the eyes a while to understand what is going on in the photograph before any conclusions arise.
Another photograph by Elliot Erwitt. As you can see, there are two dogs, one of them sat on the lap of a person. The difference with this photograph compared to the one before is that there are no gender differences. This photo holds a different kind of humour although it is observational in nature.
I think that this photograph holds a more absurd idea in its convention of subject matter. It’s rather comical in the sense that the dog on the person’s lap seems to appear as though it is an anthropomorphic version of its canine family. At first glimpse, it is like looking at a dog with human legs which is absurd and subconsciously weird in all respects. It is only after visual exploration and examination that a person comes to terms as to what is happening in this photograph, and it is a mere illusion created by the shot. A photograph records three-dimensional space as a two-dimensional image and this adds to the sudden confusion of the content; it is also an example of the ‘Incongruity Theories’ mentioned earlier.
In this photograph by Elliot Erwitt I want to briefly examine the difference between what is classified or categorised as humour and what is not. We can see in this picture that a man is drinking from a faucet and that there are two faucets in the frame. Above each faucet is a sign that labels which type of person may use each one. The one that is unused says ‘WHITE’ and the man NIL the one says ‘COLORED’, this shows a time that had a significant boundary between how people perceived different races and hints at how different people treated each other. Although this could demonstrate racist propaganda today, during the photographs capture this might not have been the case. The photograph has strong feelings embedded in its content and is too far severe for any humour by modern standards but when a picture has strong ideas, social or political implications, it is usually not funny.
Case Study: Robert Doisneau.
Robert Doisneau was born in 1912 and died in 1994. He was “one of France’s most popular and prolific reportage photographers, is known for his modest, playful, and ironic images of amusing juxtapositions, mingling social classes, and eccentrics in contemporary Paris streets and cafes.” He had influence from Andre Kertesz and other French photographers. His work is well known and established among the globe as he has created books and has had exhibitions.
Doisneau’s work consists of street photography and illustrates candid moments that he encountered with his camera. “He has written: “The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.”” Most of Doisneau’s photographs produced in Paris, his style consisted of a mix of incongruities, juxtapositions and a playful sentiment.
A photo by Robert Doisneau. It is an image of eight boys at some urinals; you find yourself amused by the pigeon sitting on one of the kid’s head. A kind of visual anomaly which is distinct and significant lending to the surreal atmosphere of the image. The slight juxtaposition of the boy being different from the rest makes him appear comical because of the bird took the action of standing on his head.FIG.24
Robert Doisneau took a series of photographs of the inside of this store, all with this painting in the frame. I think when he did this he knew what he wanted to shoot. Each photograph shows the reactions of people who looked through the window and the in particular painting. In this particular picture, Doisneau captures the stereotypical male and does so effectively. The picture shows a woman looking at a painting in mid conversation slightly gesturing towards the painting in the window. Stood beside her the man ogles the image of a naked woman on the wall, apparently not looking at the picture the woman is gesturing.
This photograph is an exploitation of the man where gender differences are concerned. Like Erwitt’s photograph (Fig.20) the humour arises out of this difference. It is a juxtaposition of the male and the female and an observation made by social stereotypes and behaviours. The introduction of a camera to these visual observations shows that photographers are aware of the social, cultural and apparent anomalies of the conduct of people during these times.
Case Study: Rene Maltete.
Rene Maltete was born in 1930 and died in 2000. He was a French photographer and published poems. He became a member of the Rapho agency which was a photojournalistic agency and even Robert Doisneau was a member. Maltete was a photographer who took pictures with a lot of humour in the content and also worked on movies with directors and the like. Supposedly he didn’t like seriousness and captured incongruous and funny situations.
This photograph by Rene Maltete shows a sign that establishes there are workers in its vicinity. In the background, behind the sign is a worker who is sleeping. This juxtaposition is made allowing the viewer to see the visual irony between the worker and the sign. The humour behind it arises from the irony that the worker is sleeping when the sign clearly shows that there are people at work. Not only does this photograph display a humorous moment, showing the initiative and wit of the photographer. The structure of the photo is adequately simple in composition and balances itself with its subject matter.FIG.26
In this picture by Maltete, it shows seven, maybe eight nuns, seven of which are clearly visible and on the wall behind them seven naked women who appear to be enchanted by a serpent. The first surprising thing about this photograph is that it has repetition and juxtaposition, a Well-Observed scene held within this image. The humour if any is related to the knowledge of religion and the Bible as well as the awareness of what denomination and who nuns are. This image shows a sub rhetorical communication through the content captured. The Bible speaks of Adam and Eve and how they narratively became seduced by the devil in the guise of a serpent implied by the poster on the wall that the nuns were walking beside; the nuns are a by-product if you will of the church as perceived by their uniforms. The joke could simply be the wit of the photographer in capturing this photograph with these elements in the frame, I believe, is culturally relevant to the Western World. He has taken knowledge of the mentioned and an education in religion at a minimal level into the design of the picture elements.
Case Study: David La Chapelle.
David La Chapelle was born in 1963 and continues to make photographs to this day. He has directed films and has been an influential and creative photographer for a while now and is one of the most well-known photographers amongst the celebrities. He “is noted for his surreal, unique and often humorous style.” He has taken photographs of many celebrities and inspired music videos. His work is quite specialised as he uses lots of props, studio lighting and models to arrange a fantasy world for his camera. He has won awards for photography, has released four books and his work speaks for itself.
David La Chapelle shot this photograph of Marilyn Manson surrounded by children. Each person in the picture dressed like a ‘Goth’, a style and subculture of the Punk genre of music and has dark, serious and deathly undertones. In this photograph, the children are all behaving although they do look excited, abnormal, eccentric. Marilyn Manson is grinning in a synthetic, artificial manner. He is holding a stop sign and is dressed in a traffic officer’s uniform.
The humour in this comes from the photographer’s idea of how he wanted the photograph to look. Besides the wonderful colours in this photo the surreal content and characters lend to a feeling of humour because of the imaginary scene. It is all rather comical and almost like something you would see in a cartoon.
The photograph you see here is also shot by David La Chapelle and shows a woman squashed by a giant burger. It’s something you wouldn’t expect to see in a photograph. It is a pure comedy but it is a visual drama, it is absurd, surreal and has a hint of satire all mixed up in its concept. The thought of a giant burger crushing someone is not a common thing to think about let alone sees. When viewers of this photograph try to understand what this photo is about the first impression is funny. However, within the humour, there could be other hidden messages. Take for example dieting and weight loss or weight gain. These might not be the first things a person thinks of when looking at this photograph but maybe they are implied. But in all respect, this is a remarkable picture.
As I have already mentioned this is not an extensive collection of photographers, for the purpose of further research on ‘Sources of Humour in Photography’ here is a growing list of photographers with humour in some of their work (They are in no particular order):
- Elliott Erwitt.
- Robert Doisneau.
- Henri Cartier-Bresson.
- Rene Maltete.
- Matt Stuart.
- Richard Kalvar.
- Lee Friedlander.
- Garry Winogrand.
- David LaChapelle.
- Jeff Mermelstein.
- Martin Parr.
- Bruce Gilden.
- Paul Hill.
- There are many various other photographers who have humour inherent in their photography.
- There is a lot of humour in photography at http://www.in-public.com/photographers
- Ask yourself “Is this photograph funny?” to find more humour in photography.
We defined what humour is, we took a look at the science and psychology of humour. I attempted to find a theory of humour which I could not find, distinguished what observational humour is and how it plays a role in still image photography as well as video. Given you are from planet Earth you probably already know something about these topics to some degree. It’s a given that we all know what makes us laugh.
Humour in Postmodernism has been relevant in looking at the context of humour in the academic hemisphere in which we looked at elements of humour and postmodernism being relevant and similar. The intertextuality, fragmentation, wordplay, and elaborate self reference. We looked at pastiche and contradiction and how they apply to humour theory using irony, satire and other mechanisms of comedy.
All of this gave us a foundation for applying several photographic principles to humour in art photography notably visual irony, juxtaposition and the decisive moment. The similarities drawn between these visual techniques and the contextual references of techniques given in postmodernism and humour theory are all relevant and similar within the confines of humour in art photography.
Applying this knowledge to examples of photography and
looking at contemporary and historical examples in the professional scene of
photography allowed us to establish humours inherent importance in art
List of References.
- Jeff Mermelstein – Everybody Street DVD.
- Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 2, page 14.
- FIG.1 https://cdn.psychologytoday.com/sites/default/files/blogs/123437/2014/11/164057-168680.jpg
- Comedy Writing Secrets, Melvin Helitzer. (1987)
- Laughter The Best Medicine, Robert Holden. (1993)
- FIG.2 http://41.media.tumblr.com/bca8ac671e1258e6ff4a757e2e0b9651/tumblr_nfyppnU0qs1qmkli8o10_r3_500.jpg
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimpanzee (accessed 2/12/15)
- Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 5, page 76.
- Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 5, page 92.
- FIG.3 https://transatlantica.revues.org/docannexe/image/7084/img-2.jpg
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotted_Hyena (accessed 2/12/15)
- FIG.4 https://adlayasanimals.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/hyena-photograph.jpg
- Humor Theory: The Formula of Laughter, Igor Krichtafovitch. (2006)
- Humor Theory: The Formula of Laughter, Igor Krichtafovitch. (2006)
- Cocky Comedy, www.doubleyourdating.com
- http://sciencenetlinks.com/science-news/science-updates/birdsong-and-climate/ (Accessed 03/12/15)
- Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 3, page 27.
- Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 6, page 108.
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/7305469.stm (accessed 03/12/09)
- Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 9, page 190-191.
- FIG.5 https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ae/Aristotle_Altemps_Inv8575.jpg
- Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 2, page 12-13.
- Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter2, page 12.
- Humor Theory: Formula of Laughter, Igor Krichtafovitch. (2006)
- Humor Theory: Formula of Laughter, Igor Krichtafovitch. (2006)
- Laertius, Diogenes. Lives, Teachings and Sayings of the Eminent Philosophers, with an English translation by R.D. Hicks (1964-1965). Cambridge, Mass/London: Harvard UP/W. Heinemann Ltd.
- FIG.6 No.1 on the A666, Peter Hung.
- Comedy Writing Secrets, Melvin Helitzer. (1987)
- FIG.7 https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/55/Bugs_Bunny_Walk_of_Fame_4-20-06.jpg
- FIG.8 Ken, Peter Hung.
- Mary Ellen Mark, http://www.brainyquote.com/search_results.html#mYcPgkguT6dmDl7I.99
- FIG.9 Greenery, Peter Hung.
- Henri Cartier-Bresson, http://www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/blog/12018/29-quotes-by-photographer-henri-cartier-bresson/#sthash.oWvcUmdF.dpuf
- Bob Newhart, http://www.brainyquote.com/search_results.html#wcfC04sjU3sjRKut.99
- FIG.10 http://thomaspynchon.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/cl49-1stPB-bantam.jpg
- FIG.11 http://41.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ma1u13ODB91rfmkv5o5_1280.jpg
- Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 3, page 48.
- FIG.12 http://brownseditions.com/isotope/b/browns_editions_bruce_gilden_coney_island_10.jpg
- Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 7, page 129.
- Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 8, page 185-186.
- FIG.13 No.1 on the A666, Peter Hung.
- Humor Theory: Formula of Laughter, Igor Krichtafovitch. (2006)
- Paraphrased notes from Cocky Comedy, www.doubleyourdating.com
- Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 2 page 15 (Schopenhauer).
- Humor Theory: Formula Of Laughter, page 48. Igor Kritchtafovitch. (2006)
- FIG.14 Matt Stuart, https://robtownsendcn.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/matt-stuart-new-bond-street.jpg
- FIG.15 Keep Clear, Peter Hung.
- FIG.16 No.1 on the A666, Peter Hung.
- FIG.17 Lee Friedlander, The Little Screens, https://peakhegemonycom.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/1ca46-friedlander_littlescreens-10-393×600.jpg
- The Genius Of Photography DVD Series.
- FIG.18 Henri Cartier-Bresson, Le Gare Saint Lazare, http://popliteral.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/decisive-moment-henri-cartier-bresson-1.jpg
- FIG.19 http://www.in-public.com/store/image/file/2182/main/01KAR1979007W00012-25_72-660.jpg?1398855816
- Making Light: Wit and Humor in Photography, 2000, (Exhibition Booklet/Pamphlet).
- Creative Camera, April 1985 Issue No 244.
- Creative Camera, April 1985 Issue No 244.
- FIG.20 http://mediastore.magnumphotos.com/CoreXDoc/MAG/Media/Home2/c/4/4/7/NYC3850.jpg
- FIG.21 http://mediastore2.magnumphotos.com/CoreXDoc/MAG/Media/Home2/5/0/d/b/NYC15335.jpg
- Humor Theory: Formula of Laughter, Igor Kritchtafovitch. (2006)
- FIG.22 http://mediastore4.magnumphotos.com/CoreXDoc/MAG/Media/Home2/c/f/4/0/PAR41687.jpg
- FIG.23 https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/71/68/71/71687158ee283d101ba9582e9f681837.jpg
- FIG.24 https://peakhegemonycom.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/96d82-dirty_blog_masters_of_photography_robert_doisneau_19.jpg
- FIG.25 https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/5e/Maltete_travaux.jpg
- FIG.26 https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/2b/83/9e/2b839e52238dca3258519fb7f2da1317.jpg
- FIG.27 http://prod-images.exhibit-e.com/www_lachapellestudio_com/971109_1_Marilyn_Manson_Schoolbus6.jpg
- FIG.28 http://prod-images.exhibit-e.com/www_lachapellestudio_com/971109_1_Marilyn_Manson_Schoolbus6.jpg
Dunn, Cheryl. (2013) Everybody Street, A Film about New York City Street Photography. An ALLDAYEVERDAY Film.
Provine, Robert R. (2001) Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. Penguin Books.
Helitzer, Mel. (1987) Comedy Writing Secrets: How to Think Funny, Write Funny, Act Funny and Get Paid For It. F&W.
Holden, Robert. (1993) Laughter The Best Medicine: The Healing Powers of Happiness, Humour and Joy. Thorsons.
Krichtafovitch, Igor. (2006) Humor Theory: Formula of Laughter. Outskirts Press.
Anton, Saul. (2015) Lee Friedlander, The Little Screens. Afterall Books: One Work. Distributed by The MIT Press.
(Director) Kirby, Tim. (2007). The Genius of Photography, How photography has changed our lives. DVD Series. BBC.
see List of References section for
Online works and image credits.
 Jeff Mermelstein – Everybody Street DVD.
 Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 2, page 14.
 Comedy Writing Secrets, Melvin Helitzer. (1987)
 Laughter The Best Medicine, Robert Holden. (1993)
 Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 5, page 76.
 Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 5, page 92.
 Humor Theory: The Formula of Laughter, Igor Krichtafovitch. (2006)
 Humor Theory: The Formula of Laughter, Igor Krichtafovitch. (2006)
 http://sciencenetlinks.com/science-news/science-updates/birdsong-and-climate/ (Accessed 03/12/15)
 Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 3, page 27.
 Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 6, page 108.
 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/7305469.stm (accessed 03/12/09)
 Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 9, page 190-191.
 Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 2, page 12-13.
 Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter2, page 12.
 Humor Theory: Formula of Laughter, Igor Krichtafovitch. (2006)
 Humor Theory: Formula of Laughter, Igor Krichtafovitch. (2006)
 Laertius, Diogenes. Lives, Teachings and Sayings of the Eminent Philosophers, with an English translation by R.D. Hicks (1964-1965). Cambridge, Mass/London: Harvard UP/W. Heinemann Ltd.
 No.1 on the A666, Peter Hung.
 Comedy Writing Secrets, Melvin Helitzer. (1987)
 Ken, Peter Hung.
 Mary Ellen Mark, http://www.brainyquote.com/search_results.html#mYcPgkguT6dmDl7I.99
 Greenery, Peter Hung.
 Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 3, page 48.
 Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 7, page 129. (See Laugh Epidemics page 130 of Provine, Laughter for an unusual tale about a group of African students who started a laugh epidemic that spread contagiously to other neighbouring towns throughout Africa.)
 Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 8, page 185-186.
 No.1 on the A666, Peter Hung.
 Humor Theory: Formula of Laughter, Igor Krichtafovitch. (2006)
 Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine, Chapter 2 page 15 (Schopenhauer).
 Humor Theory: Formula Of Laughter, page 48. Igor Kritchtafovitch. (2006)
 Keep Clear, Peter Hung.
 No.1 on the A666, Peter Hung.
 Lee Friedlander, The Little Screens: https://peakhegemonycom.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/1ca46-friedlander_littlescreens-10-393×600.jpg
 The Genius Of Photography DVD Series.
 Henri Cartier-Bresson, Le Gare Saint Lazare, http://popliteral.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/decisive-moment-henri-cartier-bresson-1.jpg
 Making Light: Wit and Humor in Photography, 2000, (Exhibition Booklet/Pamphlet).
 Creative Camera, April 1985 Issue No 244.
 Creative Camera, April 1985 Issue No 244.
 Humor Theory: Formula of Laughter, Igor Kritchtafovitch. (2006)