Bringing a ghost to life, Rose Hill Cemetery, Macon, Georgia, 2013
This tomb of a young girl was haunting in its own right. For 150 years, the sculpture marking her resting place has been tortured by the elements. Industrial pollution has all but blackened her face, chest and arms, bringing the spectral whites of her eyes to the fore, and creating a ghostly presence. As a final touch, a visitor has placed the blossom of a red artificial flower in one of her hands. The image is incongruously jarring to both the eye and the mind. It virtually brings a ghost to life before us. When processing the picture, I had to decide between leaving essentially what was a greenish mossy-looking image in color because of the importance of that incongruous red flower, or converting the photo to black and white to make it far more symbolic and ghostly. However the primary incongruity of this image is rooted in the contrasting artificiality of the red flower. I decided to leave just this flower in color and convert the rest of the image to black and white, thereby making the photograph even more incongruous. I rarely use such decorative post-processing gimmicks in my imagery. I find them often self-conscious and precious. However this image called for such handling, because my processing technique becomes part of the message itself. (Film director Stephen Spielberg effectively used a similar technique in his black and white film “Shindler’s List,” when he retained only the pink color of an innocent child’s coat as she was being herded towards execution in a concentration camp.)
In Marilyn’s shadow, Palm Springs, California, 2013
Scale incongruity takes center stage in downtown Palm Springs, as Seward Johnson’s 26-foot tall painted iconic bronze sculpture of the late actress Marilyn Monroe dwarfs a pair of tourists standing beneath her billowing skirt. The vivid late afternoon colors add a surrealistic touch to the scene. The man and woman were posing for their own picture – the man tries inspect the underside of the huge skirt, while the woman attempts to cover his eyes. The huge poster on the building in the background adds a sense of place, while the feathery clouds swirling overhead echo the curves in the massive skirt.
Floating the dog, Monterey, California, 2012
I have seen and photographed many people walking their dogs all over the world, but this was the first time I ever observed a man floating a dog. He skillfully paddles an elongated surfboard, maneuvering his German Sherman Shepherd between two ducks floating on the surface of Monterey Bay, neither of which paid any attention to the incongruous sight. I made this image just as the dog cast a hungry eye one of the ducks. The situation is incongruous, not only because the dog is floating instead of walking, but also because of the brace of innocent ducks flanking this scene.
Harbor Seal and Jellyfish, Monterey, California, 2012
While I was standing on Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf, a large California Harbor Seal surfaced and created a set of figure eight ripples as it slowly glided past me, just below the surface of Monterey Bay. Its head was nearly even with a jellyfish I had been photographing as it drifted alongside the pier, just below the water’s surface. The scale incongruity between the two sea creatures is apparent. An instant after I made this image, the harbor seal suddenly lunged towards the jellyfish. I was able to make an image of that as well, but all I could record was a huge splash of water. Both harbor seal and the jellyfish vanished along with it.
Street performer, Santa Cruz, California, 2012
This accordionist is costumed lavishly, an incongruity in itself. What makes this image even more incongruous is the black mask and cardboard mustache that adds much to his bizarre characterization. I moved my vantage point so that his head fits into the softly focuses glowing archway behind him, creating the effect of a spotlight.
In step, Valletta, Malta, 2011
The most interesting, if strenuous, way to enter Valletta is to gradually climb a series of staircases that rise from the harbor to the city, which sits atop the hill that has made it an effective fortress over the past 500 years. This particular staircase seems to incongruously come to a dead end, but that is illusory. Two more staircases are hidden from view here – they rise from the top landing on both the left and the right. A woman carrying a container has just descended one of them, and will soon climb the other. I caught her in my 24mm wideangle frame just as she reached its middle – giving the image its sense of scale incongruity. The characteristic golden hue that gives Valletta much of its identity seems to overwhelm her.
Performance, Barcelona, Spain, 2011
Barcelona’s La Rambla is known for the street performers that earn a livelihood along its curbs. This “living statue” seemingly carries on a cell phone conversation in absolute silence. The green and white paint that covers everything but his phone is an incongruous touch, making into a figure of “living concrete.” I focused closely on him with my 400mm telephoto lens to bring up detail, and remove all conflicting details from the frame. I wanted to make a “silent” image, and I think I’ve achieved it.
Athletic planters, Acre, Israel, 2011
An artist has decorated the front of his house or studio with two pairs of athletic shoes nailed to a board. Just displaying two pair of shoes on the wall of a house is an incongruity itself. But the artist goes on to add still more incongruities– he or she paints the shoes in the primary colors of red and yellow, and arranges them not by pairs but by color contrast. As a final incongruity, the artist has turned the shoes into planters – filling them with dirt, and displaying a grass-like plant in each. Even the wall becomes part of the art – the yellow limestone, although patched and filled, harmonizes with the colors mounted on its stones. I moved in with my 24mm wideangle lens to make the shoes as large as possible, yet still get all four of them, as well as the yellow wall, into my frame.
The hidden horseman, Acre, Israel, 2011
This large sculpture of the mythological winged horse Pegasus was on sale in Acre, just one of many figures in a yard full of ornamental décor for sale. What makes it incongruous is the rider, whose head is thrust deeply into an overhead palm tree. The classically draped rider not only looks backwards – it also seems to be lost in the greenery. I found such an incongruous juxtaposition amusing, and shot the picture from an angle that intensified the rider’s predicament.
Mannequin keeper, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2011
Nearly every clothing store in Cuenca uses mannequins at the door to attract attention to their products. In this image, a store employee is positioning the mannequins in a grouping, and in doing so, she becomes part of the arrangement herself. Her vivid red sweatshirt meshes nicely with the colors around her, and her impassive expression helps her blend incongruously into the grouping.
Comparison, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2011
A somber woman, hands pressed close to her chest, peers out from her door upon a rain-swept street, and in doing so, she tentatively extends one foot over the doorsill. A poster in the adjacent doorway of a shoe store draws a comparison to the figure of an exuberant model that appears to be dancing. While considerably smaller in scale, the dancer seems to be urging the staid woman at left to unclasp her hands and enjoy herself. The extent of that woman’s exertion seems to be extending a toe to take the measure of the rain; she remains incongruously oblivious to the comparison.
Art imitating life, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2011
A mobile phone company’s poster, featuring a playful child, makes a perfect backdrop for real child’s curiosity, along with his observant mother and his younger sibling. I liked the way the mother and baby are tucked into the form of the poster child kissing the balloon, while the real child bends over to echo the curve of the big red sphere behind him. The scene blends art with life seamlessly and incongruously.