The ticklish subject of humour is often on the sidelines of writing about photography, yet photos often entertain us with their wit and visual jokes. Photography and Humour remedies this situation by providing a history of photographic laughter, gathering together over one hundred images. In this first survey to look at the history of photography through the lens of humour, Louis Kaplan reviews some of the important ways photographers from the mid-1800s to today have found humour in the world, and how viewers have found amusement in photographs.
Kaplan focuses on key aspects of photographic humour that are closely connected to human experience – our identity, social situations, and death. He exposes readers to the key genres of photographic humour, whether making fun of photography’s role in identity and identification, mocking the social function of photography or scoffing at the association of photography and death. The images range from stereographic domestic comedies to the biting political satires of photomontage, from conceptual artistic pratfalls to Surrealist humour noir, from the doubles of trick photography to amusing optical distortions, from the decisively funny moments of photojournalism to the parodies and masquerades of contemporary art photography. Illustrations bring together classics from renowned photographers, including Jacques Henri Lartigue, Elliott Erwitt, Weegee, Cindy Sherman and Martin Parr, as well as hidden gems of vernacular photography. This is a unique collection of the deadpan, the witty and the downright absurd.
‘What’s so funny about photography? Louis Kaplan answers this question and many more in this playful and provocative new book. Photography and Humour is a marvelous survey of funny pictures, ranging from the black humour of Hippolyte Bayard’s 1840 Self-portrait as a Drowned Man to viral internet hoaxes from the past few decades. Writing in lucid and entertaining prose, Kaplan delves deep into the history of the medium, pulling dozens of choice examples from photography’s bountiful bag of tricks.’ – Mia Fineman, Associate Curator, Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
‘In this excellent addition to a compelling series, Kaplan offers a stirring riposte to photography’s traditional association with “morbid sensibility,” tracing the impact of the medium through a constellation of humorous genres: from vaudeville and slapstick to ridicule, satire and the contrivances of cultural stereotypes – yet not forgetting the oddball disquisition on mortality represented by gallows humor. His keen reflections on the work of canonical photographers (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Jeff Wall, among others) is leavened by discussions of lesser-known figures and a buffet of amateur, anonymous or commercial images. Photography is served up, here, with a side of mirth and merriment, sauced with a dash of mayhem.’ – John C. Welchman, Professor of Art History, University of California San Diego and Chair, Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts
Louis Kaplan is Professor of History and Theory of Photography and New Media at the University of Toronto. He is the author of László Moholy-Nagy: Biographical Writings (1995), American Exposures: Photography and Community in the Twentieth Century (2005) and The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer (2008).