One of the strangest experiences I can recall in photography was being advised to take images out of an edit because they contained humour. The rational was that serious photography couldn’t be in any way funny and that inducing people to laugh or chuckle diminished the artistic merit of a work. I hear similar comments around photography focused on the natural world (landscape, wildlife, etc.) which for many so-called “fine art” photographers would be considered seriously off-limits lest it be consigned to the coffee-table book genre which in the present day seem to have little or no artistic credibility.
In relation to humour though, the assertion that it kills meaning is not only unfair but is belied by significant evidence to the contrary. What about Rimaldas Viksraitis’s Grimaces of the Weary Village and the work of Martin Parr and Duane Michels? All these photographers use humour as a conduit for evoking deeper truths.
And then there is the photography that is actually loaded with humour, but which may not have been consciously produced with it in mind. Does that make the work any less funny or worthy of serious consideration? This is where Kessel Kramer Publishing come in with their superb publishing programme, in particular their occasional Useful Photography magazine. Useful Photography is the generic name for the millions of ephemeral images, which are used daily and with a purpose all of their own: practical photography, often made by amateurs that has a clear function where the makers remain anonymous.
Useful Photography #008 celebrates the opening images of pornographic photo shoots. Pornographic films, websites, and magazines all plough the same furrow: the repetition of the same act, in all its variations. Where they differ is in their opening sequences, the patently fake and false scenarios, which are often afterthoughts to the main event. UP #008 commemorates these opening scenes, often clichéd, sometimes bizarrely inventive, but always supremely fake. Taken out of context, (without the pornographic scenes that follow) they tell a different story. Humdrum scenes of chess playing, coming to the assistance of a fallen roller skater, or a job interview take on supposedly sexual (but ultimately comical) overtones when the viewer is supplied with the knowledge of what is to come.
I recently showed these images to a friend who is studying Visual Anthropology who like me thought there was far more to them than meets the eye. Aside from being embodiments of the various cultures they were produced within (which is in itself a fascinating guessing game) there’s also an intriguing off-hand fantasy element to them that could only reveal itself within the context of ‘afterthought’ images which though produced for public consumption don’t actually have to be any good as they’re mere accompaniments to the ‘main event’.
Anyway, to the actors, actresses, and art directors involved in these photos and of course Eric Kessels and his team I salute you all for making me laugh whilst making me think.
All images taken from Useful Photography (edition #008) published by Kessel Kramer Publishing.