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220 × 190 × 18 mm
200 pages
110 illustrations, 55 in colour
01 Oct 2016
  • £19.95

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Photography and Humour Louis Kaplan

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.

‘Kaplan’s book serves as an accessible, insightful, critical history of photography’s relationship to humour, one that focuses on the medium’s role in social life . . . Kaplan takes a more expansive view of photographic publics and situations, reaching across the twentieth century into the twenty-first, and mingling vernacular and fine-art forms, analogue and digital.’ — Tanya Sheehan, History of Photography

‘Kaplan plays fast and loose with both historical and contemporary photography to create a mash-up of style, intention, artistic movements, and meaning. Included are well-known photographic tricksters such as Hippolyte Bayard, Vik Muniz, Martin Parr, and Tony Tasset, but curiously adding to the mix are the likes of Cindy Sherman, Carrie Mae Weems, and Walker Evans. Readers are left with no choice but to hold on and enjoy the wild ride’ — Choice

‘Well written and engaging as a book on humor ought to be, this complex and considered book, unique in photography studies, speaks to a nonspecialist audience and focuses on images that poke fun at some of the key roles and functions of photography, turning humor on the discourse of photography itself. Notable is the author’s consistent engagement with and acknowledgement of the work of others, from known theorists to early career scholars, indicative of the generosity that underpins this book as well as its commitment to photography’s humanity. Technology and human endeavor are affably intertwined in these pages to reveal both the unbridled levity and deep fear we mobilize to tenuously master the precariousness of our existence.’ — Sabine T. Kriebel, CAA Reviews

‘a witty, insightful and telling story about the many journeys the photographic form has taken through the ages in the context of humour’ — Arts Illustrated, India

‘Whats 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 Bayards 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 photographys 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 photographys 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

‘the first and most welcome comprehensive study on humor in the field of photography research. Kaplan treats both photography and humor as firmly anchored in social practice and deliberately focuses on the manifold ways photographs make fun of the medium’s key social functions. Covering a wide range of practices from photography’s earliest days to the digital practices of today, he explores how humor destabilizes photography’s role in identity formation and identification, in the building of social cohesion and being-togetherness, and finally, how a darker, “morbid sense of humor” laughs in the face of photography’s intimate relationship to death.’ — Mieke Bleyen and Liesbeth Decan, “Introduction” to their edited volume Photography Performing Humor

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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).


one Lenses of Laughter

two Messing with Identity

three Social Snaps

four A Morbid Sense of Humor



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Photo Acknowledgements