Tag Archives: Humor

Louis Porter

Louis Porter is a little like a novelist who looks at the urban landscape for clues to weave together into stories. He has been photographing those clues and categorizing them into an collection titled The Small Conflict Archive.  They are humorous in their simplicity and telling in the small narratives that they create. Louis a British born photographer who currently lives and works in Melbourne.  His work has been exhibited widely throughout Australia and internationally. He has published books with independent publishers in Australia, France and England and been included in the photographic compendiums Hijacked II (Big City Press) and The Collector’s Guide to Emerging Fine Art Photography (Humble Arts). He recently established his own publishing imprint, Twenty Shelves.

The
Small
Conflict
Archive 
The Small Conflict Archive is a collection of fragments, markers and traces of a minor
conflict, which can be easily found on the surface of any modern town or city. These
are not the conflicts that make the evening news: the protracted wars, acts of
terrorism, murders and kidnappings. Instead, The Small Conflict Archive contains
evidence of perforations, in what might be considered a typical day. What constitutes
a perforation is diverse and subjective: it might be a broken key, some discriminatory
graffiti or even a spilt carton of milk. What unifies the objects and photographs in the
archive is their ubiquity; the archive is first and foremost a collection of familiar
things. 
What the Small Conflict Archive proposes, is that the material aspects of urban space,
should not be considered as merely functional, aesthetic or unwanted, but also as
symbolic and potentially empathetic devices. The objects and photographs collected
for the archive, have been sifted from the soil of the everyday and although some of
them standout more than others, they have all sat undisturbed, waiting to be
collected or photographed. It is from the prosaic remnants of daily life that
archeologists build our understanding of the past. But for the Small Conflict Archive, it
is these very remnants that we can also construct our understanding of the present.



Bad Driving

On any given day, countless pieces of street furniture have their utilitarian roles
abruptly brought into question by careless driving, and it is the results of these
minor mishaps that are the subject of Bad Driving. As a foot passenger in life I have
always been acutely aware of the impact of cars on the urban environment.
Sometimes I wonder for whose benefit many cities have been built, its citizens or its
cars. These points of impact, the twisted poles and buckled signs, become selfreferencing
historical markers, that sink into the surface of the city, becoming almost
invisible.

Crap Paint Jobs

The series of photographs depicting Crap Paint Jobs, like the majority of the sections
in the archive, portrays the remnants of an event, the protagonist of which is no
longer present. In its practical manifestation, painting an object, particularly one in a
public space, is by its very nature an act engaged in aesthetic harmony. The object is
painted to either fit in with its environment, or (especially in commercial settings)
stand out.  

Two extremes of environment come to mind, the historic centre of a European city, where the way a thing is painted might be legislated in order to maintain a sense of cultural authenticity and an outer suburban shopping complex, where almost identical prefabricated concrete boxes, are painted wildly different colours, in order to differentiate themselves from one another. In either example, if the paintjob is done rather badly, the overall tone of the surrounding area is called into question. 

Crap things tend to multiply and travel in packs. If the previous painter has done a terrible job, the standard required by the next painter to do a reasonable job lowers. Although the suggestion is not that a poorly painted lamp post can set in motion a chain of events, that lead to the collapse of a civilization, its contribution to a sense of urban decline is a subject of great interest to The Small Conflict Archive.

Signs of a Struggle

Like many of the sets in the Small Conflict Archive, Signs of a Struggle began with a
single visual encounter that set in motion a series of thoughts. Seeing a spilt paint can
at the base of a small hill in suburbia, I wondered what events had led up to the
incident and what had resulted from it. This paint can was, I decided, evidence of a
moment of a minor conflict in life. Perhaps it was the “straw that broke the camels
back”, perhaps later that day the owner decided not to paint the fence after all,
perhaps that was for the best. 

I decided to search out more of these tell tale signs. Signs of a Struggle, therefore searches out and collects the traces of accidents, mishaps, disagreements and other deviations in the smooth running of life. There is naturally a large amount of conjecture in any such exercise, as it is impossible to know the exact circumstances of how a spade was broken or a pot of paint spilt. This series and the archive as a whole, should therefore be considered more a musing on the symbolic nature of objects, than a series of confirmed and catalogued facts.

Robert Rutoed: Right Time Right Place

The photographs of Robert Rutoed appeared on my visual radar
several years ago when I was introduced to his project, Less is More. The images made an impression that kept his name and photographs
in the forefront of my mental Rolodex – not an easy feat, as I look at a lot of
images on a daily basis. 
Robert is part of that wonderful European street shooter legacy that is so important in a world where technology keeps our heads down, where cell phones remove us from truly being engaged with each other.  And it’s this heads-down mentality that disassociates our connections with a world rich with small dramas. We need Robert’s photographs to make us realize what we are missing, and allow the levity of his work to not only see ourselves with amusement, but to simply, see ourselves.

What Robert brings to the contemporary photographic dialogue
is that intangible ability to see the world with a skewed lens – a lens that is
compassionate and at the same time, unkind. It is a lens that is the stuff of
operas and nightmares, comedies and slapstick. Robert finds that split second
of humor or truth telling and that instant of social documentation or absurdity
that makes us not only laugh at ourselves, but also laugh and feel embarrassed
all at the same time.  Or should I
say, at The Right Time.
Robert has a new book, Right Time Right Place, that releases this week, and I have the privilege of writing the foreword to this publication.
Robert  was born in Vienna and is a photographer and filmmaker. He created numerous
short feature films with screenings worldwide and his photographic work has been exhibited throughout Europe, the United States and Asia. Robert was recently the winner of the
New York Photo Award 2012 in the category Fine Art. His books included: Less Is More
(2009), grayscales, early b&w photographs (2010), Right Time Right
Place
(2012).
Right Time Right Place
Being at the right place at the right time is usually associated with
happiness and success. But what happens when we are at the right place
at the wrong time? Do we even know that this is the right place? And
what if it turns out that it is the wrong place after all? But the right
time!” – Whoever loses his orientation over this thought will get a
feeling for Robert Rutöd’s latest pictures. The Vienna-born photographer
wandered for five years through Europe and has proven to be a keen
observer with an often tragicomic view: The blind man who finds
orientation by putting his stick in a tram track, the helpless swan that
finds itself frozen to the vast stretch of ice, or the amputee operator
of a shooting range set up in a ruined building. It gets macabre with
the portraits of the Pope, Hitler and Mussolini decorating the labels of
wine bottles.


Pascal Fellonneau

One last post about elections for 2012 and thought I would end with a humorous take on campaign posters. From March to June 2012, French photographer Pascal Fellonneau has been regularly wandering the streets of Paris capturing posters of French presidential elections. The reality of what happens to these symbols of achievement and power can’t help but make one laugh. He has a new book, Candidates, published through Bolo Paper.

Pascal was born in Bordeaux and now lives in Paris. His photographs question how we inhabit the urban environment and depicts strange yet familiar landscapes often
devoid of humanity.
After living in Iceland for a few years, he was beneficiary of a grant from French ministry of Culture in
2005, and began exhibiting in several countries across Europe (France, Greece, Germany, Sweden).

His press and corporate assignments include clients like Wallpaper City Guides, Elle, Libération,
Telerama, The Guardian, and many others. Some of his selected exhibitions include NORD[S] Regards Croisés within the context of Transphotographiques festival in Lille, France 2011, Cold Cold Ground (within the context of Fotografi i Fokus, The South Sweden Photography
Biennial) Final Galleri, Malmö, Sweden 2011,
Brave New World, Athens Photo Festival / Hellenic Center for Photography. Greece 2009-
2010
The Farm, Museum of Aquitaine, Bordeaux, France 2008
Island.

images from Candidates

Michael Mergen

Now that we know who will be living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next four years, we might want to consider who else lives at that very famous address.  As a bookend to his series, VOTE, that ran on Lenscratch yesterday, Michael Mergen has created a terrific series about a very famous address.

Michael earned a BFA in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology and an MFA in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design. He began his career as a photojournalist, working for national newspapers and newswire services in Boston and then his hometown of Philadelphia. His current work focuses on ideas and notions of America and its institutions.  He has exhibited nationally and internationally and his work is held in several public and private collections. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Art and Photography at Longwood University in Farmville, VA.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue 

With 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I sough to explore and document the American landscape using the constant of the country’s most famous address – the White House. Using this address as a constant, I made straightforward images of everyday America. What followed is a vernacular, kaleidoscopic view of this country: lower and middle class homes of all sorts, mundane structures of a waste water treatment plant, and bland, nameless brick and cinderblock buildings. And it is this contrast to the regal white columns of the White House, its manicured lawn and historical context that makes these buildings so interesting, the familiar humdrum of the American landscape, that simple happenstance of sharing an address with the most significant of all.

 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
Pine Bluff, AK
, 2008

 1600 Pennsylvania
Street, Gary, IN
, 2008

 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
Irwin, PA
, 2008

 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
Lorain, OH
, 2008

 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
McDonough, GA
, 2008

 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
Miami Beach, FL
, 2008

 1600 S Pennsylvania Avenue,
Morrisville, PA
, 2008

 

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
Newton Falls, OH
, 2008

 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
Whiting, NJ
, 2008

 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
Guilderland, NY
, 2008

 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Salem, OH, 2008

 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
Stoughton, MA
, 2008

 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
NE, St Petersburg, FL
, 2008

 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
Tyrone, PA
, 2008

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
West Mifflin, PA
, 2008

Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America by Molly Landreth

Stella-and-Sterling-WEB.jpg

Stella and Sterling, 2007, Seattle, WA, from Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America
© Molly Landreth

Embodiment: A Portrait of Queer Life in America is an ongoing photography / biography archive project by Molly Landreth. It is rich with imagery, honesty, humor, and individual stories. It’s a celebration of life and love, and it avoids the usual clichés.

Here’s the story about this photo of Stella and Sterling, written 5 years after it was taken:

STELLA 2012:

“Basically, when this photo was taken, me and Sterling had recently broken up. Well, of course, that’s what gives this photo such a strange undertone. I look angry. Well, my choice in eyebrows doesn’t help the situation. Our mattresses had been pushed apart prior to the photo I believe. That was a big deal. I was waiting to hear back about a new apartment and we were awkwardly living together after the break up in a one bedroom. And then the “happy valentines day” box, pinned above our beds. It looks so empty and lonely up there. I remember being excited to be featured in your project and I’m still glad I did it but I also remember thinking we were fooling everyone that we were still together in the photo that so many people who didn’t know us at all would be viewing. Looking back at it years later, I see we weren’t fooling anyone. Though it was an uncomfortable time in my life, I’m happy that you were able to capture the situation so perfectly.”

See many more portraits and related stories from this series here in Lens Culture.

Michelle Alexis Newman

Humor is a double edged sword.  To get it right, one needs to be right on the blade, and it better be a sharp blade and maybe even a little bit bloody. Los Angeles photographer, Michelle Alexis Newman, explores this subject with her project,The Open Mic.  This is an ongoing series of portraits of standup comedians.  They pick the joke that goes under their images and she hand writes their attempts to be funny as a way to combine and reference both of their creative processesSometimes it’s hilarious and sometimes, it’s not.
Originally from Seattle, Michelle received her BFA from Western Washington University’s School of Visual Arts and now lives and works in Los Angeles.  She is drawn to humor and handwriting, horror and family. She is a member of Phoot Camp and has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions around the United States.

Elliott Erwitt: Sequentially Yours

Elliott Erwitt generally likes to let his pictures do the talking. “I’m very bad about talking about things,” he tells me with a smile, during a recent sit-down to look through his latest book, Sequentially Yours, published this month by teNeues.

The book playfully presents a series of unscripted vignettes that bear the personal hallmark and humor of his classic images and movies, but with an original twist— rather than single shots, the photos are shown as sequences. The result is somewhere between single exposures and films, and the stories play out like silent movies—touching, funny, sad, irreverent and full of surprise.

Erwitt uses his film sparingly; he’s the first to acknowledge that he does not take as many frames as most photographers when he shoots. “The process is sometimes more interesting than the finished picture,” he says. And it’s that thought that served as the impetus for Sequentially Yours. Looking through his archive, Erwitt decided it made more sense to show sequenced images— as opposed to a single shot a la Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Decisive Moment.”

“You always look for the best picture, but sometimes the pictures are not that great alone. But in a group, they become interesting,” Erwitt says, citing the series of people trying to close an umbrella on a windy day. “None of these are a picture on their own, but as a sequence of 32, it’s hilarious—not being able to close the umbrella and going home with it open.”

The book’s layout mimics Erwitt’s photographs in style—classic and effortless—and each of the vignettes has different constructs and different outcomes—often open to interpretation—that surprise and entertain. There are iconic images of Erwitt’s that you would expect to be the final statement in a particular sequence that actually appear in the middle of a story, proving that the iconic image can come at different points in the process and that Erwitt continues to shoot with a natural curiosity beyond the point where other photographers might stop after they’ve gotten the picture.

In a photo series of an old man and his dog, Erwitt says “the picture is of course the man talking to the dog—having had his discussion, he goes on his way.” In another series, which takes place at a graveyard, he says, “You really don’t know what is going to happen—it starts with a woman going to a cemetery to deposit some flowers and a dog follows her.” The last picture shows the dog rolling on the ground—and could stand on its own as the picture—but it is made more interesting by those that precede it. But even as the punch line, this image is still open ended. Is the dog playing dead or simply being playful?

These sequences reveal how Erwitt shoots, and he clearly has a relaxed approach and patience. “It’s like fishing. Sometimes you catch one. You lay in wait for something to happen— sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t,” the photographer says of his process.

Along with the stories, there are Erwitt’s iconic photographs of public figures. The familiar images give further context by the frames which were taken immediately before or after. A group portrait taken on the set of the The Misfits movie reveals the chemistry of the cast in the build up to the final image. Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev are shown as a dyptich, and a series of Che Guevara portraits are simply four pictures taken from a single photo shoot. In a Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier fight sequence, the subtlety is almost lost in the magnitude of the moment. Erwitt’s explanation of this unique series is almost as surprising as Ali being knocked to the canvas. While the accredited photographers shot handheld directly at ringside, Erwitt shot from the audience a distance away, with the camera on a tripod, so you can see that all three pictures are taken from the identical position.

And while most of the image sets are taken in a concentrated time frame, there are a couple of notable exceptions. Two photos of Erwitt’s first daughter—one in which she is pregnant and the other three months later with her baby—and a series which ends the book, showing Erwitt’s personal agenda covers adorned with photographs of his two daughters taken over a thirty year period.

Erwitt has published nearly 40 books, but Sequentially Yours provides a perfect, original and refreshing context for his intuitive and instinctive images. His playful humor and wit are as sharp as ever. Here, Erwitt gives you a sense of what happens next, the end point being sometimes comic, sometimes poignant and often with a wink.

Sequentially Yours was published this month by teNeues. Erwitt will participate in a book signing at the International Center of Photography in New York on Nov. 4.

Jeff Mermelstein

© Jeff Mermelstein

“From Helen Levitt to Garry Winogrand to Philip-Lorca diCorcia, the tradition of New York street photography has attracted the medium’s best and brightest. It takes nerve to join their ranks these days, and Mermelstein has plenty of it. Working in color, he’s made some of the slyest, funniest street pictures of the past twenty-five years….” —Vince Aletti, The New Yorker

To do street photography photographers fall in two camps. Some photographers are actually shy of people – curiously – and so they photograph by keeping the distance, by becoming unobtrusive, by blending with the street scape and taking the photographs fast without being noticed. Others, and many who master the craft fall in this camp, are bold and in your face so they point the camera without hesitation to be obtrusive and blunt. The image is taken then rapidly so it doesn””t become staged, but certainly the subjects are often well aware of shot, even when they don””t have time to respond to the situation and so they are framed without the possibility to affect the picture.

Jeff Mermelstein belongs to this second kind of street photographers, and his work is remarkable and exceptional, painting the humor the happenings and vibrancy of street life in New York City (see other videos here and here). Twirl/Run is his most recent book, by PowerHouse.