In the latest edition of Mslexia, Tracey Chevalier writes about the dilemmas of competition judging.
"I had to read, reread, and read again to figure out which stories I was happy to snack on any time of day. Was I in the mood to explore the effect of a child's death on a parent. (There were a lot of those.) Or did I have a hankering to read about fathers leaving their families? (Quite a few of those too.) And what about mothers dying? (Yup, lots of those, too.) So, the big topics, death and loss. Doesn't anybody write about love anymore?
....It's curious that of the thousands of stories submitted (yes, thousands) there were so few laughs to be had. If you listen to the conversations of people around you - on the bus, in cafes, outside the school gates - you'll hear lots of laughter... But somewhere along the way writers seem to have got the idea that short stories need to be sober and po-faced. Maybe people worry they won't be taken seriously otherwise."
There are obvious parallels in photography here where the Sickness, Alzheimers, Old Age and Death story are in the ascendant and the sound of photographic laughter (sychophantic genre chuckles not included) are entirely absent. Some of the sickness and death work is wonderful, has warmth, humanity, insight and even humour but most of it is generic, repetitive, grim and earnest. But due to the subject matter, it is hard and heartless to criticize. But do we really want another cancer story? It's nice for the personal memories and as a family project but have we not reached saturation point? (That being said, have we not reached saturation point on absolutely everything? Er, no as it happens.)
Tracey Chevalier's article ties in with the comedy research (is that right?) of Sam Friedman According to his studies, middle classes prefer comedy they regard as complex, even if it provokes negative reactions, the working classes prefer observational comedy that guarantees pleasure. This is what some of his interviewees said:
Among the middle-class interviewees, ‘Mark’ said of Stewart Lee: ‘He makes me feel like I’m in an in-crowd of comedy nerds. You go in and you know you’re going to be challenged, you know a few people in the audience won’t get him. Overall it makes you feel a bit smug, and it’s an awful thing to say, but it makes you look down on the people who don’t get him.’
Brian added: ‘I don’t think laughter is integral. It’s really irrelevant for me personally. I know a lot of friends who go to a lot of comedy gigs that they say they don’t really laugh at all. I mean they’ll say that comedian was really funny but I suppose you’re taking in the artistic value rather than just purely making you laugh.’
But working-class Karen said: ‘My take on comedy is that it’s got to make me laugh, it doesn’t mean to say I need to think about it, except for that split-second in the punchline. I’m not looking for them to educate me.’
And Pete added: ‘To be honest with you I see enough shit in the newspapers and the news every day, I’d rather see things that make me laugh, that I get enjoyment out of. I don’t want to see anything too highbrow or too morose. I just want to be entertained in a light-hearted way.’
Does something similar happen in photography. Do we like all those obscure photographers with their off-kilter shots and joyless examinations/explorations and investigations because we have something of the snob about us. What is the photographic equivalent of going to a comedy gig and not having a laugh? Is it going to a gallery and having a laugh? And is that a good state of affairs for photography to be in?
Now then, who enjoyed the Deutsche Borse Show? Really?