How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American values?
Irony: a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often wryly amusing as a result.
On reading this I immediately thought of Martin Parr (b.1952) – I did some research on Parr for the People and Place module. English-ness has always been associated with tradition and values, cricket, tea on the lawn, manners and perfect homes with manicured gardens.
Parr presents English-ness somewhat tongue in cheek, like an advertisement for tourism. His series shot in New Brighton “Last Resort” (1983-85) displays garish colour and exaggerated settings, not quintessentially English, but certainly well observed and truthful.
Above left: anything but neatness, and yet the family appear unperturbed by the litter. Right: No evidence of reserved behaviour in this image. Mum sunbathes topless next to an excavator – this really was the last resort!
The Martin Parr images below somehow remind me of seaside cafes and sunny days at the beach as a child, although I never ate doughnuts! The humour and irony of the Union Jack flag covering the face of the lady in the deck chair, English, proud, but not on view. The doughnut and grubby fingernails of the child is anything but a picture of elegance.
Whilst not street photography, American photographer Cindy Sherman (b. 1954) also uses pictorial irony to a point of satire. I discovered her untitled series of richly coloured portrait photographs in which Sherman is the model, dressed in theatre costumes with heavy make-up and artificial body parts.
I see humor in almost everything, in even the grotesque things, because I don’t want people to believe in them as if they were documentary that really does show true horror. I want them to be artificial, so you can laugh or giggle at them, as I do when I watch horror movies. (excerpt from Interview, reprinted with permission from the San Francisco Chronicle. July 8th, 2012).
“The series was inspired by the idea of party photos seen so often in magazines where people, desperate to show off their status and connections, excitedly pose to have their picture taken with larger-than-life-size smiles and personalities.” (Sherman, C. 2012)
One wonders why fashion houses would want to promote its images in this way. Sherman, an avid sociologist passionate about exposing the brainwashing inherent in advertising, so why agree to do this work? A possibility would be for commercial reasons or to substantially raise awareness of the power of advertising by parodying the kind of image normally found in fashion magazines. Of course for the fashion houses (images shown above are for Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga respectively) it draws attention and promotes the brands by way of criticism in the media. It also builds on the open attitude of working with a photographer with a cult following.
San Francisco Chronicle “Interview with a Chameleon” with art critic Kenneth Baker. 2012
New York Times.Interview, ‘Cindy Sherman’ at Museum of Modern Art. 23rd Feb 2012.