Last week, I posted a handful of photography sites that are always good for a laugh. It got me thinking, though. It’s easy enough to laugh at someone’s mistakes, but really, when’s the last time you laughed at your own photography? And for that matter, when’s the last time you allowed yourself to be silly behind the camera? I’m not talking about the times you’ve made faces at your kids to get them to laugh or smile; I mean, when’s the last time you really let yourself go for your own photos?
I bring this up because I think a lot of us get into a frame of mind that says, “Photography is Art. I’m serious about my Art, and my photography.” And at that point, we forget to just get over ourselves and have fun. Now, I’ll admit that I’m slightly biased when it comes to the intersection of humor and creativity. Maybe it’s a personality quirk, or maybe just some kind of genetic predisposition, but I have a hard time being too serious for too long. As a result, some of my photography circles back to humor, and I’m also drawn to photographers whose sense of humor informs their work. As you’ll see in the examples that follow, you can still make some seriously good photos from a lighthearted place.
Consider Colleen Fletcher of duckshow.com. What started as a way of decorating the bathroom became something close to an obsession. She now has ducks for every occasion, holiday, and even location. Her ducks have seen Vegas, Jersey, and Europe, and have been photographed with sailors and celebrities alike. Christian Cantrell’s Microkosmic would be a favorite even if I weren’t already obsessed with both Legos and photography.
And some photographers have turned funny into serious business. Brian McCarty (McCarty Photoworks) has combined a love of art toys with some serious composition and lighting skills and parlayed it into a client list that includes the likes of MTV, Rockstar Games, Cartoon Network and Southwest Airlines. Chris McVeigh’s unique vision (a vision that frequently includes Lego, Star Wars figures and a couple of semi-professional chipmunks) has led to gigs with Gizmodo and MacWorld.
It doesn’t stop there, of course. You don’t even need to be that funny that often, though a bit of humor in the right place goes a long way. “Straight” photographers have also found a dash of humor to be one of the most potent tools in their kit. Philippe Halsman’s collaboration with Salvador Dali, Dali Atomicus, comes to mind, as does much of David LaChapelle’s oft-imitated work. In other words, there’s a time-honored place for this. The photography police aren’t going to confiscate your equipment because you weren’t sufficiently intense, I promise (though your local police department may be a different story).
Let’s go out on a limb for a moment, and assume that if you’re reading this, you take your photography pretty seriously. You’re willing to take the time to learn your gear, technique, and anything else you have to get the hang of, in order to get better photos, and you’re aware that this isn’t a day trip you’ve embarked upon, but rather something that’s likely to be a lifelong journey. So far, so good. But if you’re taking yourself, and not your craft, seriously (because really, it’s more about you than your “art” at that point), that verges on fatal. It’s bad enough that your photos won’t be much fun; it’s much worse that you become dull at that point. Besides, as Robert Benchley once astutely pointed out, if you don’t put humor in the right places, you risk people laughing at the wrong times, or for the wrong reasons. You don’t want that, do you? Lighten up!
Postscript: A heartfelt “Thank you” to each of the photographers whose work you see here.