Faceless, El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park, Santa Barbara, California, 2014
The buildings of this Spanish military outpost, dating back to 1782, have been either restored or reconstructed. As I ended my tour, I entered a room that was a family’s living quarters, and this incongruous vision greeted me. This life sized painting fills a board six five feet tall. The figure itself is striking in its color and gesture. A hole appears where the face should be, which tells us that the painting is there for to visitors take “selfies” of themselves transformed into an 18th century woman. My photograph of this figure without a face tells an entirely different story. It becomes a painting of a person forever lost to memory. The painting throws a large shadow on to the wall behind it, making the hole where the face should be darker and more ghostly and incongruous than expected. I also placed the figure off to one side of my frame, implying that the painting stands alone within an utterly empty room.
Juxtaposition, Central Park, New York City, New York, 2013
I was concentrating on photographing a lone figure seated atop a massive rock outcropping. She was lost in her work, and never noticed the male dog relieving himself in the foreground. The juxtaposition of the woman and the dog express the vast range of activity and opportunities available to the millions of New Yorkers who cherish this vast park in the middle of Manhattan. The woman has taken over the huge rock, while the dog marks its own territory along the path below it.
The cost of war, Andersonville National Cemetery, Andersonville, Georgia, 2013
More than 15,000 Union prisoners of war are buried here, many of them dying of malnutrition and disease at the notorious Andersonville Confederate Prison Camp within a space of only 14 months during 1864 and 1865. This massive toll is grimly expressed here by the rows of grave markers spaced only inches apart. So many died so quickly that burial space was sharply limited. I place these strangely compacted rows of graves in the foreground of this image, and incongruously contrast them to the normal spacing of later burials placed in soft focus, and moving in a different direction, within the background. I organized this image in layers, beginning with the sharply focused grave markers in the foreground, and gradually fading them into softer focus as they recede. A lone tree separates the rows of older markers from the newer burials behind them. In the distant background, a red wall encloses the acres of stones, separating them from a stand of trees. This is a scene of death juxtaposed with life, a poignant reminder of the savage war that tore the United States apart 150 years ago.
Double Take, Miami Beach, Florida, 2013
This vintage limousine, generally parked in front of a Miami Beach hotel, draws attention to itself (and its owners) in several incongruous ways. It dates back to another era, and is painted a bright yellow. A scruffy man with a cigarette hanging from his lips and a rumpled fedora upon his head, stares at us from its driver’s seat. Tourists stop to pose for pictures with the car and its incongruous driver, yet the driver never acknowledges them. Is he a street performer, or is he a mannequin? By moving in to stress the man, rather than the car itself, I dare my viewers to answer that question.
Pink Elephant, near Inverness, Florida, 2013
The life sized elephant stands along side of Highway US 41 – the Tamiami Trail – to draw attention to a local auto repair business. It is a double incongruity in itself – an animal that never moves, and is painted a shocking pink. Its sheer scale never fails to draw the eye of passing motorists. We stopped and I walked across the road to place the pink elephant in a layered composition that places it into a context. A layer of weeds leads to the highway itself, and then to a layer featuring the elephant, advertising signage, and an assortment of cars and trucks backed up next to a forest.
In tribute to Bobby, Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia, 2013
Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones Jr. was a lawyer. He was also the most successful amateur golfer the world has ever seen from 1923-1930. In his final season, he won all four of golf’s major championships, defeating amateurs and professionals alike. During his brief seven year career, he played in 31 major tournaments, winning 13 of them, and finishing in the top ten 27 times. He later helped found the Masters Golf Tournament and the course on which it is played each year. Jones died from a crippling spinal disease in 1971, and his fans have honored his memory by converting his gravesite to a putting green (note the incongruous putting cup within the shadow adjacent to the grave marker.) There are numerous golf balls (along with other mementos) also incongruously in residence here, many of them gathered into the long shadow cast by the marker. The greatest golfer of the Roaring 20s has not been forgotten.
Freeloaders, Naples, Florida, 2013
The shelter at the very end of the Naples Fishing Pier offers an incongruous gathering place for both man and bird. At sunset, this shelter becomes a busy place, as fishermen fish, tourists stroll, and seagulls and terns wait patiently for handouts from both. I abstract my image, placing the sun behind the shelter’s roof, and stress the row of seven birds poised for potential free snacks. By comparing that row of small birds on the roof to the row of large human heads gathered below them, I create an incongruous juxtaposition of silhouetted shapes.
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.