Looking for answers, Pakse, Laos, 2005
A study in contrast, this photograph compares the conscious process of thought to the unconscious. Two monks, side by side on the altar of a Buddhist temple, show different ways to find answers to their questions. One dreams, the other wonders. It is an incongruous juxtaposition of attitudes, and an incongruous place to sleep. At least that’s how it seems from my Western point of view. I am sure Laotian monks think otherwise.
Reading with Buddha, Yangon, Myanmar, 2005
The Burmese seem to live their religion rather than just practice it. Buddhism is pervasive, and can seem to outsiders as very casual. This fellow incongruously relaxes on the floor with a book in one of Shwedagon’s many temples. In photographing the man, I stress his bare feet. All who enter Burma’s Buddhist temples must remove both shoes and socks, an act of humility. He bares his soles to us. He lies upon a hard floor. He is a humble man. Yet he also turns away from Buddha to read his book. This is an incongruity, and it helps this photograph tell its story.
Watching Us, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2004
When I noticed the faceless cardboard figure wearing a vest and shirt propped up in the window of a Santa Fe clothing shop, I saw the possibilities for an incongruous image immediately. All I needed to do was to create the most effective context for it. I tried shooting it straight on, then from below. I tried first one window, and then two – there was a similar clothing display in every window of this old building.
Then I realized that the image expressed its incongruity most effectively when the bizarre widow display comes to us slowly, as a surprise, rather immediately. I backed off at an angle, obscuring two of the three window displays in the process. I brought a lovely branch full of golden Aspen leaves into the frame, complementing the soft yellow color of the brickwork. All of this context works in such harmony, that the bizarre figure watching us from the first window may well go unseen by some of us for at least moment or two, and then it suddenly stops us in our tracks with its mysterious effect. If some viewers do not take the time to read this verbal context, they might get quite a jolt when they finally notice that blank face looking at them through that window. The message: all this beauty, and suddenly, little more than a ghost for our thoughts.
On the Road, Beyond Sonora Pass, California, 2004
After threading our way through the snow-swept Sonora Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we descended into a valley of rolling hills and undulating wet roads that cross the land where California and Nevada come together. I made this image, one of the most unusual perspectives I’ve ever photographed, with my 432mm telephoto lens. Looking back into the mountains we had just traversed, the rain-slicked road glistens in the late afternoon sun, and the incongruous sense of compression offered by this very long lens gives the scene the look of an old watercolor. It offers us an unusual way to perceive depth perspective – as our eyes go back into this image, everything seems to flatten and bunch together. The road itself suddenly seems to end and not reappear. The image becomes impressionistic rather than realistic. It is, in essence, both a painting and a photograph, all in one.
Silent Howl, Walker, California, 2004
This store clerk is so involved in running her rural general store that she no longer seems to notice those silent howls coming from just behind her. I am always looking for incongruous juxtapositions such as this as I travel. I knew the wide-open mouth of the stuffed coyote would provide an incongruous basis for my picture, but I needed to compare it to an appropriate gesture from the clerk. When she spontaneously covered her own mouth (To stifle a howl?) I knew I had the shot.
Flowery Crown, St. Peters Port, Guernsey, UK, 2004
Why is this French policeman (or soldier?) hiding behind a basket of flowers in a British town? Actually, this face adorns the side of a local pub. The flowers spill over it from a balcony. I had to move my camera position until that hanging tendril curved just below the eye, not over it or next to it, in order to create this whimsically incongruous juxtaposition. As for the answer to that question, it might have something to do with the fact that Guernsey, a dependency of the British Crown, is an island in the English Channel, just a few miles from the French Coast.
Bookshop, Kinsale, Ireland, 2004
A mystical figure seems to spring to life from the wall of a Kinsale bookstore as geese around her seem to incongruously fly off into those green trees. The only thing that was missing was a leprechaun! The key to this shot was carefully moving the camera in to create a tight frame, in order to merge that tree to the sign. We don’t see where this tree begins or ends, but my purposeful merger offers real leaves for those fictional geese, while the mystical figure seems to emerge out of the leaves as well.
Sheer Scale, The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain, 2004
Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim, a 350,000 square foot colossus, is the focal point of a $1.5 billion redevelopment plan for Bilbao. Its revolutionary architecture remains controversial. Locals call it the "Californian Cauliflower", while the New York Times hailed it as the first great building of the 21st century. No matter what your view of it, the sheer scale of its central piece of massive titanium sheathing is hard to ignore. I shot this picture on an overcast day, from a position just across the Nervion River from the museum. Focusing my spot meter on the titanium panel, which is angled so that it is reflecting light into the camera, I was able to darken the panels and glass behind it. I waited these people to walk below the titanium panel -- they appear so small in comparison. This scale incongruity tells us just how enormous that panel really is.
On St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Ireland, 2004
The oldest and largest of Dublin's spacious "squares" is St. Stephen's Green, which is actually a sprawling inner-city park. Thousands of residents and visitors can vanish into the countryside for a few hours, yet still be only minutes from Dublin's crowded pavements. This woman is the very picture of relaxation. She has removed her shoes, and pulled her sweater up over her face to turn day into night. Yet her knees are raised and legs are crossed, suggesting not sleep, but rest. The incongruity, of course, is the anonymity created by the red sweater. Its color is the focal point of the picture. I positioned her at the bottom of my frame, which creates the bed that St. Stephens Green offers.
Morning exercise, Beijing, China, 2004
When I saw these four men exercising alongside a canal in a Beijing park, I immediately noticed the incongruous juxtaposition of the perfectly executed landscaping and the imperfectly executed exercise. The essence of the humor comes through a comparison of forms – the triangular flower beds are perfect in every respect, but the arm positions of the exercisers are out of synch and thus imperfect. Of course the men have no idea their futility is being incongruously compared to the perfection of their surroundings, and therein lies the humor of this image.
Mao and stuff, Beijing, China, 2004
We had lunch with a Beijing family, whose home featured a porcelain tribute to Mao displayed side by side with Chinese ceramics of a less political nature. I framed my picture so Mao is only partially included, boxed in and shadowed. He’s there, but not as complete or brightly illuminated as the pottery surrounding him. His wave goes unanswered. I intend this image as an incongruous metaphor for how Mao is presently regarded in China. For most, he’s the past, and the future is now.
Herbal Market, Xian, China, 2004
Our visit to Xian took us to a herbal market featuring remedies that have kept Chinese healthy for centuries. This salesman, however, places a nap high on his own health agenda. I thought the juxtaposition of all those healthy herbs with the dozing man was incongruous, and moved my camera’s wideangle lens in on top of both to make this shot.