Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The Lascivious Centurion, San Francisco, May 2007.
Photographer Elliott Erwitt wrote, "Making people laugh is one of the highest achievements you can make. And when you can make someone laugh and cry, as Chaplin does, now that's the highest of all possible achievements. I don't know that I aim for it, but I recognize it as the supreme goal."
A photographer oftentimes creates humor by juxtaposing incongruous objects through clever composition. When a sphinx appears to carry a car on its back, as it does here, that's funny. Or when a nun from the Vatican appears to shield your eyes from a scandalous movie poster, as in the Bruno Barbey picture here, the horror on her face is funny too. Comedy, intentional or not, comes from unlikely places. This confessional scene in Poland, also by Erwitt, may all be about remorse-ridden piety, but Catholics will not be able to resist smiling at the ridiculousness of this familiar scene.
The boy in this Martine Franck photo is a Tibetan Buddhist reincarnated lama who entered the monastery at the age of five. Franck snapped the picture just as a pigeon landed on the head of the boy's tutor, creating a comic and poignant moment that probably comes as close as a photograph can get to Erwitt's "supreme goal."
An image can be shockingly unexpected that our first impulse upon seeing it is to laugh. Is that a naked man on Brooklyn Bridge? Is that man having lunch on the fire escape? In his underwear? Like they say in chatspeak, omg. What are these ballerinas doing leaping around --- a hot dog stand? Is that really James Dean having his haircut in plain view? Our reaction would be the same as that of the woman passing by: omg.
Garry Winogrand liked to go to the zoo to take pictures. But when you're confronted by a couple wearing identical checkerboard shirts standing next to a man with a box over his head, why bother with the animals?
Ah, human comedy.
Elliott Erwitt, Las Vegas, 1954.
Elliott Erwitt, Pasadena, 1963.
Elliott Erwitt, East Hampton, 1983.
Elliott Erwitt, Hollywood, FL, 1962.
Bruno Barbey, From The Italians.
Elliott Erwitt, Poland, 1964.
Martine Franck, Nepal, 1996.
Richard Kalvar, NYC, 1969.
Chien Chi-Chang, NYC, 1998.
André Kertész, Ballet, 1938.
Dennis Stock, NYC, 1955.
Garry Winogrand, NYC, 1962.