Photography News: Modern masters, point and shoots, and parking

My Little Pony — by Joe Reifer

6 thoughts on “Photography News: Modern masters, point and shoots, and parking”

  1. Deadpan may work as one in a string of adjectives used when describing the work of Shore, as well as quite a few other of my favorite photographers such as Bill Owens and Lynne Cohen. But these photographers do not just simply have their tongue in their cheeks as they invite you to laugh with them at the subject’s expense — deadpan hints at this type of judgement — it’s much too simplistic and doesn’t even begin to capture what’s going on in these images. Is Arbus deadpan? Eggleston? Something about the term just doesn’t feel right to me.

  2. Joe – while the word ‘deadpan’ is very often used to discribe a type of humor delivery, it also means …marked by or accomplished with a careful pretense of seriousness or calm detachment; impassive or expressionless…displaying no emotional or personal involvement…

    The term ‘deadpan photography’ is often used as a descriptor of the ‘Becher School of Photography’ and its many variants – photography that ‘appears’ to have little, or no, emotional or personal involvement on the part of the photographer, photography that also tends to features the ‘mundane’.

    As we all know, well, at least some of us know, appearances can be deceiving.

    I think that your connection of ‘deadpan’ to humor is, in this case, misplaced.

  3. Hi Mark -

    Can you divorce the more prevalent, popular comedic connotations of “deadpan” when using the term to describe photography? Sure, we’re just discussing a small matter of semantics here, but I think there’s an important distinction to be made.

    While the Bechers are systematic, and conceptual photographers like Ruscha certainly qualify as having “calm detachment,” I don’t buy the “no emotional or personal involvement.” That’s pure science. There would be no reason to pick up the camera if you didn’t have any emotional or personal involvement.

    Robert Adams is a good example — the photos may appear to be mundane and detached on the surface, but when reading the accompanying text it’s clear that some of the locations have deep personal meaning. Does deadpan mean your work looks clinical and mundane, and that you never crack a smile?

    Maybe it’s just that I can’t help thinking about Buster Keaton or Steven Wright when I hear the term deadpan. If Steven Wright was a photographer, then the using term deadpan to describe his work would be fine.


  4. Joe – re: Does deadpan mean your work looks clinical and mundane… – yes, exactly, but emphasis on the word ‘looks’. The pictures give the appearance of a cool clinic and detached observation, but, I agree, 100%, that they are rarely so created.

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