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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Two: Travel Incongruities > Big smile in the Prater, Vienna, Austria, 2003
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Big smile in the Prater, Vienna, Austria, 2003

The most expressive image I made while walking through in an amusement park in Vienna's Prater, was of a giant clown supporting one the park's many thrill rides. Its brilliantly colored and grotesquely exaggerated features offered an incongruity in scale. I moved to within a few yards of the huge grinning head, taking a vantage point almost directly underneath it, to emphasize the enormity of these features.

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Phil Douglis24-Aug-2010 17:38
Thanks for telling us how you saw this image, River King. The reason why you kept coming back to the left hand edge was because the nose is being crushed by the structure pressing in on it. An incongruity within an incongruity.
Guest 24-Aug-2010 05:54
Phil, this is the order my eyes went on this picture: first, his eye, then his nose, and then his mouth, finally the entire smile... for some reason, the left border also constantly steal my attention! The incongruity works so well on this picture because it makes my eyes constantly shift attention, thus makes the picture so much alive!
Phil Douglis22-Mar-2007 02:58
PM reply | hide | delete 21-Mar-2007 22:51
Your comment is fascinating, Ceci. This image, and the structure I photographed, is quite horrific and shocking. The very nature of clowns is rooted in incongruity. There is a very thin line between laughter and horror. As Lisson points out, the more the size, the less the laughter. You are right -- this clown is as horrific as the KISS mask in your picture is. The irony, of course, is that this is a building in an "amusement park." Somebody should do a gallery on clowns that explores the line between humor and terror.
Guest 21-Mar-2007 19:59
You are so right, Phil, about the similar "shock" of your clown and my KISS mask! Yours is almost a horror image, despite the so-called "smile". There is something inhuman about clowns anyway, with their exaggerated features, and the makeup which separates us from the person underneath. And a mask is even more effective, in that the actual being underneath is completely disguised. Perhaps that was part of the intention with the rock group KISS -- performing in face paint, allowing them to be even wilder and more shocking in the delivery of their music. The face -- where we go for clues as to the truth/intentions of another -- is disguised and grotesque so that we become confused. Is this creature smiling? About to gobble us down? Angry? Sad? It's hard to "read" clowns with huge turned up mouths -- indicative of joy -- busy acting like the world has come to an end, and making us cry. Your clown is almost ferocious, lurid, seeming to eat the structure by its lips. Brrrrrrrr.
Phil Douglis28-Jul-2006 23:42
You are right, Emi. Exaggerations are incongruous. And clowns are a grotesque exaggeration, meant to make us laugh, but often terrify us as well. There is indeed irony here.
Guest 28-Jul-2006 12:13
First I don't think there is any "missing visua reference to size" problem as mike suggested. Even if there is no title and no caption, the angle chosen to take this picture is a visual reference.

And yes, the size is pay a very important part in incongruity. But actually, clowns are incongruity themselves. Clowns are supposed to make people laugh and make people happy whenever we see him. However, they also come with big bloody mouths, pale white faces....and there is also one ironic thing is , they are usually used in horror movies.

Phil Douglis23-Dec-2004 20:32
Thanks, Mikel. The "missing visual reference to size" comes by reading the caption, which tells the viewer that the clown is "supporting one of the park's many thrill rides." Given this information, the viewer can see the red structure pressed against the nose for what it is -- part of a ride. As I mentioned earlier, most of my images are meant to be interpreted along with the written context in my explanation. They are not meant to be seen as "stand-alone" art. The dual incongruity of that huge scale and the exaggeration of the grotesque features and vividly surreal coloring, gives this image its expressive content.
Guest 23-Dec-2004 17:31
In this case I understand the reason of the grand angular to exagerate perspective to give the scale incongruity but still find missing a visuall reference too it's size. Though I agree with you that it is grotesc in a great maner.
Phil Douglis02-Dec-2004 03:52
You show a remarkable perceptive grasp of incongruity, Clara. I hope to see more of it in your own work. You are the first to point out the effect of scale on purpose. As it grows in size, it becomes a monster, the very opposite of fun and pleasure. Wonderful point.
Guest 01-Dec-2004 23:43
it is incongruent because the more the size the less the fun it produces - becoming a monster, not human anymore.
Phil Douglis08-Nov-2004 21:23
There is no such thing as normality when it comes to a clown, Nut. A clown is an exaggeration of human conduct and to do so, a clown puts on a false nose, paints his or mouth into a huge grin or frown, colors the skin, dresses in exaggerated fashion and then behaves accordingly. Exaggerations are usually incongruous, Nut. It is a performance, a form of theatre. Clowning is based on humor, and humor is almost always based on incongruity. Clowns do not talk, they gesture. Gestures are visual shorthand -- abstractions of a sort.
nut 08-Nov-2004 20:32
Normally, a clown has a big nose and big mouth. That's why we called a clown. Am I right?
nut 07-Nov-2004 11:00
Thank you. I got it.
Phil Douglis06-Nov-2004 21:38
Incongruity is something that does not seem to fit with its context. This face is context. The huge nose and big mouth do not fit the face. They are too big for it. Therefore, they are incongruous.
nut 06-Nov-2004 21:08
I don't understand the meaning of incongruous in term of exaggerated features and colors.
If you have free time, could you please explain more about these? I will come back to check.
Take your time and thank you.
Phil Douglis06-Nov-2004 19:36
I never noticed that spotlight until you mentioned it, Nut. Glad you see a scale incongruity there. However this image is primarily incongruous because of its exaggerated features and colors.
nut 06-Nov-2004 10:18
Scale incongruity between a smile of the clown and the spotlight under his chin.
Phil Douglis09-Dec-2003 00:46
Thanks, Carol, for the feedback on how this picture looks on other monitors. That is one of the great joys -- and risks -- of the Internet. Am glad you liked the effect on your famiy's computer -- I had not intended this photo as a 60's poster, but why not?
Carol E Sandgren09-Dec-2003 00:13
While showing your clown photo to my family on their computer here in Maryland, it looks completely different on the monitor which is not color calibrated . The colors are so oversaturated that the picture becomes posterized like that in the 60s! It works as a 60s poster as well! Still one of my faves!!
Phil Douglis28-Oct-2003 21:48
You are the first person to ever re-crop one of my images, Carol, and I must say that you created an entirely different image out of it. Your picture abstracts my own abstraction, and as I see it, would virtually take the huge mouth out of the picture altogether, as well as the hair on the right, and the lower half of the supporting structure on the left. It would leave a series of six slightly diagonal lines rhythmically repeating in waves across the upper part of the new image -- the curving top of the support structure, the sliver of blue sky, the three red waves of hair at the top of the head, the eyebrow, the eye, and those little red lines next to the eye. Your crop would use the upper part of the nose and the white cheek as the base of the photograph. Your new picture, made from within my picture, is extremely graphic, and the huge eye makes it still quite incongruous in terms of scale. You have created one of those fascinating "what is it" shots -- asking questions of the viewer, and demanding answers. It is not any "better or worse" than the original -- just different, and still quite communicative. Thanks so much for taking the time to play with the image and perhaps learn something in the process. That's why I post these photographs on pbase. Your little exercise underscores the pivotal role of cropping in expressive photography. We are free to crop in the viewfinder of the camera, and crop still again when we make a print or display a picture on the web. Every time we crop a photo, we make a new picture out of an existing one, and can reveal new meanings. As I have told my workshop students for years, "as ye crop, ye shall reap." Thanks, Carol, for having a go at it.
Carol E Sandgren28-Oct-2003 18:33
Another look at your clown...I loaded it as the original size on my monitor (and it's big!) and so only a part of it showed without scrolling. The section gave me an cropped in very tight in the eye, and only a small part of his nose and corner of his mouth, with the white painted texture really showing up in his cheek. It was pretty dramatic also, and yes, a completely different picture.
Phil Douglis13-Oct-2003 16:54
Thanks, Carol, for your comment. "Inhumanely expressive"..what a perfect phrase to sum up my photo!
Carol E Sandgren13-Oct-2003 03:37
Fabulous face and brilliant color! This guy puts my little Las Vegas guy to shame, but I still love the Las Vegas clown. I had a time trying to take his picture though since he is so big and high up above an entry way. Going across the street was difficult as the view was ruined by traffic. I too love clowns big and inhumanly expressive. Thanks for commenting on my picture, by the way.
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