The Grotesque in Photography  

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"The main tributaries of the river of the grotesque in photography, then, have been these:

  • the widely disseminated documentary or photojournalistic imagery of violence, social aberration, suffering, and death;
  • the equally omnipresent commercial imagery -- advertising, fashion, illustration, even postcard -- in which fantasy was permissible;
  • the vernacular imagery made for medical/anthropological/forensic/military purposes, which created an enormous body of unintentionally grotesque images though the audience for same was limited; and
  • work by those few photographers who disregarded the fashion for "purism" and pursued the grotesque aspects of their own personal visions despite pressure to the contrary: William Mortensen, Clarence John Laughlin, Francis Brugiere, and sundry others."

"Les Krims, Jeffrey Silverthorne, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Marion Faller, Emmet Gowin, and Paul Diamond have also photographed the carcasses of animals. Diamond's ferocious close-up of a set of snarling dog teeth bared in a rictus of death (page 69) is such a "found" event, as is Gowin's "Butchering, Near Chatham, Va." (pages 34-35)."

"All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other."-- H. P. Lovecraft, "The Silver Key", epigram

"As recently as 1953 ... William M. Ivins called photography the first visual medium "without syntax."

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Grotesque in Photography[1] (1977, New York: Summit, Ridge Press) is a book by A. D. Coleman which explores the grotesque sensibility in photography.


"a first collection of photographers whose fantastic visions of life are as revolutionary as those of the impressionists."

Selection of images


See also

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