A Light Touch Goes Well With The Color Scheme

Humor in Fine Art Street Photography

David Stone
Everyone's A Critic
Everyone's A Critic
© Deborah Julian

Something we don't see enough of in street or fine art photography is a light, thematic touch of humor. Walking through galleries lined with pictures, I've been impressed by photographers gifts for catching a moment, a still that implies much more, but for all that skill and artistry, I've been disappointed that, though the best have a keen sense of irony, almost none have a sense of humor.

Whimsical, playful humor without acid is in short supply these days. Political and social strains may make a lighter touch more difficult.

On television, producers still think we need prerecorded laugh tracks to tell us when to laugh at a punch line, to what intensity and for how long.

Subtlety in mass media has been shoved aside by blunt verbal instruments. Even the indulgent sweetness of Sunday comics pages has been sacrificed.

But all is not lost.

At least in a place where humor is almost always absent, fine art street photography, a publicly good sense of humor is still possible without meanness or the crudeness and obscenities we once expected to be softened but now take in stride as just the way things are.

Getting a Smile in Urban Photography

Everyone's A Critic, above, makes its mark as fine art. The gentle colors of nature on an autumn afternoon in Central Park are accented by a batch of white balloons and the costumes of visitors along a path. One costume catches your eye.

A woman poses motionless a pedestal, a human statue disguised as a butterfly or maybe an angel. A strategically placed bucket waits for tips.

The humor in this picture takes a moment to absorb, it's so rich with color. But take a look at the expressions on the three girls out in the park with men that appear to be their dads. What are they thinking?

This discovered moment is not laugh out loud funny, but what thoughts provoke those puzzled expressions as the girls look toward the performer on the pedestal? To weird for words?

I Can't Grow Up / Street Photography by Deborah Julian


I Can't Grow Up
I Can't Grow Up
© Deborah Julian

It may be angst. Tom Waits has a great song, I Don't Wanna Grow Up, and you can imagine a defiant, "I won't grow up."

I can't is another point altogether.

I Can't Grow Up is a relief, a comic acceptance of the facts. We've all felt like that at some time in our lives, haven't we?

The world's too big, our ambitions too small or you just throw up your hands.

The way this composition shapes out, a linear expression of the city that sometimes feels too rigid and confining. It's plain, simple, funny and truthful.

A Cactus of Her Own, Bologna, Italy, Street Photography by Deborah Julian

A Cactus of Her Own
A Cactus of Her Own
© Deborah Julian

This picture taken on a busy street in Bologna, Italy, captures something that can only happen once. It's just so unusual. A young woman walks in the brick paved street, a tall cactus at her side. She's casual. It's almost like she has a date with the thorny plant.

Surprise is a better generator of humor than pain, although pain's probably more popular. This woman could be carrying groceries, flowers, a child. Instead, it's a thorny plant with which she walks, presumably toward home, with a new companion.


Humor doesn't have to rely on the meanness that fuels most of what's passed off as funny in mainstream movies and television. Cruelty or pain are not required.

In fine art photography, today's commonly harsh edges of comment would probably sink it. To fit, the picture must be refined, artistic and smile-worthy - with no need for a laugh track. 


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