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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Photography and Humour

Some photos are haunting, some breathtaking; some are illuminating, and some are beautiful. And some photos—as those of us who have ever been on the internet know—are downright hilarious. But humor has often been on the sidelines of photography scholarship. With this book, Louis Kaplan remedies this, gathering together over one hundred images in a revealing look at the way photographers—from the very beginning of photography in the nineteenth century—have found so much amusement at the ends of their lenses.
            Kaplan introduces readers to a key set of genres in photographic humor, showing how humor is often tied to serious topics such as our identity, social situations, and—yes—death. He offers a fascinating range of examples, from stereographic domestic comedies to biting political satire, from conceptual artistic pratfalls to surrealist humour noir, and from trick photography to decisively hilarious moments in photojournalism. In doing so, he brings together works by renowned photographers—including Jacques Henri Lartigue, Elliott Erwitt, Weegee, Cindy Sherman, and Martin Parr—as well as those by your everyday photoshopper. The result is a rich collection of the witty, the absurd, and the uproarious.

224 pages | 40 color plates, 70 halftones | 7 1/2 x 8 2/3 | © 2017


Art: Photography

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"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, University College Cork, Ireland |

"A witty, insightful and telling story about the many journeys the photographic form has taken through the ages in the context of humor."

Arts Illustrated (India)

“Kaplan uses the lens of humor to bring new meaning in support of his theory that photographers take themselves too seriously. Sometimes funny and sometimes not-so-funny interpretations of the photographs abound, and no image is so sacred it cannot be reinterpreted through humor, underscoring the often-repeated assault on photography’s tenuous relationship to reality. . . . 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. Recommended.”


"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 | from the introduction to their edited volume "Photography Performing Humor"

"Kaplan’s book serves as an accessible, insightful, critical history of photography’s relationship to humor, 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

“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, and 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, University of California, San Diego and Chair of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts

“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

Table of Contents

one      Lenses of Laughter
two      Messing with Identity
three    Social Snaps
four     A Morbid Sense of Humor

Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements

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