Louis Kaplan is Professor of History and Theory of Photography and New Media. He is recognized internationally for his innovative historical and theoretical contributions to the field of photography studies in such areas as spirit photography, photography and community, photographic humour, the New Vision, and photography theory. He has published three scholarly books in the field of photography studies -- Laszlo Moholy-Nagy: Biographical Writings (Duke, 1995), American Exposures: Photography and Community in the Twentieth Century (Minnesota, 2005), and The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer (Minnesota, 2008). He has maintained an abiding interest in the role of humor in art and culture for over twenty-five years beginning with his first co-authored book on the animated cartoon and pop cultural icon Gumby: The Authorized Biography of the World's Favorite Clayboy (Harmony, 1986). More recently, his essay on the significance of laughter in the philosophy of Georges Bataille was included in John Welchman's edited volume Black Sphinx: The Comedic in Modern Art (Ringier, 2010). Professor Kaplan's commissioned entry on the subject of "Humour in Art" was published in Oxford University Press Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (2nd edition, 2014). In 2013-2014 he is Visiting Scholar at the Center for Jewish History in New York where he completed manuscript (At Wit's End) that examines how juedische Witz (Jewish wit and the Jewish joke) was utilized as a rhetorical figure by a range of writers of different ideological persuasions in the larger cultural debate about the Jewish question in Germany and the German-speaking lands of Central Europe from the Weimar Republic to the Holocaust (and beyond). Louis Kaplan also collaborates with Melissa Shiff on the SSHRC-sponsored digital art and humanities project Mapping Ararat (www.mappingararat.com) that utilizes augmented reality to imagine an alternative Jewish homeland on Grand Island, New York.
What I'm Working On:
Photography and Humour: Laughter Through Four Lenses.
What are the ways in which photography as a visual and narrative medium induces laughter and provides amusement? How does photographic humour specifically mock and subvert basic premises of the medium and the ways in which photography's being in the world has been articulated? Photography and Humour addresses such questions with each of its four core chapters providing a different lens that focuses on a way by which photography has been conceptualized and how these serious attempts to locate photographic meaning have been mocked and lampooned via a particular type of humour.
The first chapter looks at humour that makes fun of photography's role in identity formation and identification. The second chapter explores humour that mocks the assumption that photography offers a certain and infallible discourse of truth and reference ("seeing is believing"). The third lens focuses on the familial and social functions of photography to engage with an amiable style of photographic humour that plays off such conceits. The final chapter turns to the common association made about photography's relations with death and mortality. This reveals a darker type of humour that is not afraid to laugh in the face of death.