Alone, Trinidad Beach, Patrick’s Point State Park, Trinidad, California, 2009
I made this image from a cliff overlooking the ebb and flow of the waves on Trinidad Beach. I zoomed all the way in on a single beachgoer, using my 400mm telephoto lens. Yet she was so far from me that she still appears as a tiny figure next to the great expanse of water and sand around her. This is an example of scale incongruity – comparing something small to something much larger.
Right of way, Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington, 2009
A female black tail deer guides its fawn through the intricacies of the parking lot at Olympic National Park’s Hurricane Ridge viewing area. Not a person is in sight here – just a long row of machines. Somehow, the mother knows exactly where to go in order to find the pedestrian walkway. It is an incongruous situation, made more so by the absence of human beings.
Feline observer, Astoria, Oregon, 2009
When I first saw this white cat sitting in the window of a white house in front of a white shade, I was amused. It seemed as if it was trying to blend in and become an invisible observer. I saw that as incongruous, and made this image. Not only is it incongruous to see a cat squeezed between a window shade and a window – it is also incongruous just to note the similarity of the colors here. I also like the soft glow of light and shadow on the peeling white wall of the house, adding just a touch of warmth to the scene.
Tour guide, Victoria, British Columbia, 2009
This woman was waiting for her next tour to begin when she suddenly produced this fully extended yawn. The moment is incongruous and it lasted long enough for me to frame, focus, and shoot. She also is waiting behind a large lectern intended to provide formal and official status, yet her momentary response to the tedium of the moment is both highly informal and very unofficial.
Striking a pose, State Capitol Museum, Phoenix, Arizona, 2009
My tutorial students enjoy shooting portraits in this museum – their models are very patient and never move. Here, a life-sized statue of a 19th century soldier of the old west strikes a jaunty pose for an energetic 21st century photographer. The two poses contrast strongly, creating an incongruous relationship. I use a 16mm wideangle focal length here, which allows me to stress the energy of my student, filling half the frame with her angular gyrations. Yet the sweep of the wideangle lens also has room to embrace the design of the floor tiles, the 19th century woodwork, and the old soldier, hand to pistol, standing upon his circular platform.
A sense of time and place, Austin, Texas, 2009
Austin’s 19th, 20th, and 21st century architecture offers stunning contrasts in time. The most impressive commercial structure in town, the 515-foot tall Frost Bank Tower, dominates Austin’s skyline. In this image, I contrast its sleek silvery blue glass façade to a vintage advertisement, featuring a stolid cowboy, painted on the side of an old brick structure standing just a few blocks away. In doing so, I incongruously compare Austin’s iconic rustic western image to a symbol of its present day economic muscle. I also try to offer a glimpse into its future – I imply here that Austin can benefit from finding ways to preserve such relics of its vintage western charm, while at the same time continuing to flourish as an economic entity. I photograph both buildings from their corners to give them a sense of spatial dimension. I tilt the camera to create diagonal rhythms within my tight frame that incongruously fuses both structures together. In doing so, I try to express a sense of time, as well as sense of place. Instead of tearing down its past, Austin incorporates it into its present and future.
Old friends, Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona, 2009
This pair of giant Saguaro cacti appears to be saying farewell to each other with outstretched arms. I stress the thrust of the arms by getting down low and shooting up at them with a 24mm wideangle lens turned vertically. The golden light warms the towering Saguaros, and provides a perfect context for a farewell at sunset. The incongruity comes, of course, from my attempt to anthropomorphize these non-human subjects.
Rainbow over the Longhorn Grill, Arivaca Junction, Arizona, 2009
A restaurant with a skull for an entrance is an incongruity in itself. To find a rainbow originating between the horns takes the incongruity to another level altogether. There was a massive rainstorm rising behind the rainbow as I made this image, creating a perfect backdrop for this incongruous juxtaposition. I spot metered on the white skull, making the rest of the image even darker, and using the under-exposed shadows to mask a potential distraction created by a car parked right in front of the restaurant.
Biker shop, Seligman, Arizona, 2009.
Hundreds of bikers regularly rumble along Historic Route 66 in Northern Arizona, and this biker shop in Seligman welcomes their business with a pair of lifelike mannequins hanging around its entrance. Mannequins are no stranger to this gallery – they are often incongruous. (Almost three years earlier, in fact, I photographed another mannequin at this same shop in Seligman: http://www.pbase.com/image/63555669
) Such incongruity can take different forms – in my 2006 image, the incongruity rested in seeing the flaws upon an otherwise perfect face. In this image, however, the incongruity comes in how lifelike the mannequins appear as they pose and relax amidst the furniture in front of the shop. They seem ready for company, only none is in sight.
Burros, Oatman, Arizona, 2009
A herd of semi-wild burros wait for handouts in a parking lot next to the old mining town’s Community Hall. Using a 24mm wideangle lens, I move in on them to fill half the frame, yet still allow room for the building and its signage. It is incongruous to see semi-wild animals prowling the streets of a town, and even more incongruous to see them in the context of a human activity such as a community hall. In fact, the only community we see here is made up of burros. The burros are descendants of the pack animals turned loose by gold prospectors in the 1920s and are protected by the US Department of the Interior.
American Merchant Mariner’s Memorial, New York City, New York, 2009
This monument, located at the tip of Manhattan in Battery Park, honors the thousands of merchant mariners who have died at sea in the course of American history. Created in 1991 by the artist Marisol Escobar, part of it features a bronze sculpture of a drowning man that is not only unsettlingly realistic, but dependent upon the ebb and flow of New York harbor’s tides. It is reaching upwards from the water, towards a helping hand extended from one of three other bronze figures stationed on a rescue boat overhead. I framed only the drowning man, his body wracked with tension and fear. Over time, the weather and seawater have coated the figure with a patina that further blends it to the sea. Will he live or die? The colors in my image make the body appear to be flayed – revealing raw flesh below its green copper skin. The rough texture of the stone base of the monument adds still another dimension of fear to the image, confining the figure within a claustrophobic space. The power of photographic illusion enhances the creative concept and brilliant execution of the sculptor, using incongruity to help express the terror of a drowning at sea.
Safe Haven, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 2008
I found this huge bull elk resting near one a tourist parking lot. Elk prefer this place because they like the taste of the grass, which was originally planted for the US Army horses that grazed at the old Fort Yellowstone here in the early 20th century. The presence of so many tourists does not seem to bother them in the least. I make this incongruous point by waiting for a human to enter the frame – neither party takes any notice of each other here.