William Wegman and anthropomorphic amusement

I make it a point to look at as many photographs as I can.  On business trips I always bring photography magazines and I go to as many photography exhibits as I can.  There’s always something to be learned.  Last week at Bowdoin College’s art museum I went to see an exhibit of the photographs and paintings of William Wegman “Hello Nature.”  Yeah, yeah the guy with the weimaraners .  .

And I have to admit that I have never been all that excited about Wegman’s work.  Maybe it’s because I’m more of a cat person.  Still, like I said, there was something to be learned.

First, of all these are very clever pictures and they do make you laugh.  So, like everyone else, I enjoy these pictures.

Second, I learned from my friendly student guide that there’s no Photoshop or photomontage at work.  Thus, when you see dogs dressed as yachtsmen sailing a boat there was a photographer’s assistant who positioned the dogs and jumped into the water at the last possible instant.

Third, one gets to see some of those large format and soon to be extinct Polaroid images.  Every day as I drive to work I pass the old Polaroid headquarters in Waltham, MA.  The site is now knocked down and a new buildings under construction.

But, I digress.  A few years back I read a useful book by Bill Smith Designing a Photograph.  There are many ways to create an image to grab one’s viewer.  One of these is to throw the image out of symmetry with something unexpected.  This can create a sense of imbalance and dynamism.    And that’s a fourth and important point with Wegmans work.  You expect people and get dogs, expect a moose and get a dog’s head with antlers.  Hmm!  Still there’s something familiar here.  There seem to be two types of cartoon figures. Mickey and Pluto are animals. Goofy has a dog’s head, but human limbs – like some sort of ancient Egyptian deity.  Years ago I was present for a sheep surgery.  The sheep was lying on the table all covered with sheets so that all you saw was the sheep’s head.  It kinda felt like I was in a Wegman photograph. And it makes one laugh. And also Wegman has clearly achieved a brand.

The laughing is a key point.  If you were to challenge yourself to make a photograph that makes people sad – not so hard; fills people with awe – again not so hard; hat’s cute – bring out the curly haired kid or the puppy.  But to create not only one but many images that are sure to elicit amusement  – that’s a feat that Wegman accomplishes repeatedly.

This entry was posted in Reviews and Critiques.