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In the long history of photography, humor is undervalued, especially in documentary work. Think of “documentary photography” and most of what comes to mind are the grim (albeit meaningful, important) works bringing to light the poor and downtrodden.
The work of Londoner Matt Stuart is quite the opposite—rather than zeroing in on pathos, he goes looking for oddity and whimsy.
At times, Stuart’s images seem too easy: a man standing in front of a billboard that shows an enormous arm pointing a finger at him, or a group of seemingly unsuspecting pedestrians about to get “sprung” upon by a leaping rugby player in a wall advertisement. All you need to do to get images like that are to find the right ad and wait for the right moment.
Other photographs are more inspired. One captures an older man in an energetic mid-yawn; another finds a bubble blocking a man’s right eye as if it were a monocle. In Trafalgar Square, a man sits impassively while over his right shoulder someone in black does a tight mid-air flip. In Oxford Street, two figures, one headless, share an umbrella. (Presumably, their coat is pulled up over their head to guard against the rain.)
Some of Stuart’s images exude a certain creepiness. In one, a man shoves a magazine into his briefcase, his hand all but fondling the model on the cover (bottom). In another, a man sits in the subway looking bored, oblivious to the a scary red face hovering in the window over his shoulder.
Stuart’s finest image, however, pairs the red feet of a pigeon and the black legs of pedestrians, all perfectly mid-stride (top). The image, shot low to the ground, is divided in half by a crease in the concrete—a welcome element of formalism that grounds what is otherwise a playful approach.
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