The Art of Funny

Steve Martin © Sam Jones

George Clooney © Sam Jones

Will Ferrell © Sam Jones

Tomorrow I am teaching a portraiture workshop to high school students in conjunction with MOPLA, the Los Angeles Month of Photography.  I’ve been stressing about what exactly to teach these kids; what is possible to learn in a couple hours and what is not.  What is the most important component of portraiture I would ideally like to impart to a beginner?  I think planting the seed of how to take an iconic, expressive portrait is the way to go.  It’s easy to lean some pretty girl against a wall, diffuse the light, and take a flattering portrait that says nothing at all about the subject.  That has never been my thing.  I enjoy unique portraits; portraits that show me something I haven’t seen a million times before.  I like when pictures of people tell a story, and that story can be really simple or more complex.  It all comes down to the storyteller’s point of view and whether he or she is beating you over the head with a concept or merely leading you down an interesting path.

Simultaneously, I am prepping for an upcoming shoot with one of my current favorite comediennes which is exciting.  I love shooting funny, smart ladies.  I have been doing my normal research for the shoot with her which involves brainstorming on the internet, trying to come up with something that makes sense, but isn’t cliché.  I keep coming back to Sam Jones‘ work as a great example of someone who does humorous and clever portraits.  There is a true art to capturing humor in a still photograph.  It’s not easy, even when you’re shooting someone really super funny.  The idea has to communicate only visually what it would normally communicate with the additions of sound effects, music, or a series of actions that end in a punch line.  It takes a good sense of humor (and by that I mean a sense of what is humorous) on the part of the photographer in order to know what needs to happen in this one single image to carry the joke through to completion.  I’ve admired Sam Jones’ work for a long time now.  That picture of Steve Martin was taken ten years ago and, to me, still holds up as a great picture.  It’s a classic joke presented in an interesting way.  Just goes to show you that big budgets and fancy lighting and whatnot is cool, but one simple, great idea can make for a really iconic portrait.

9 comments to The Art of Funny

  • anna

    i wanna go to your class!!

  • Emily Shur

    Just because we look like (or act like) we’re in high school doesn’t mean we are in high school, buddy butt. :)


    i wanna go to your class to buddy butt :) S.C. is just like a high school club right? we should be able to sneak in the back…

  • nina

    i wanna go to your class too!
    Oh and is it Tina F.?!!!

  • chris buck

    if your looking for humor try chris buck as well

  • Emily Shur

    @chris buck: If you kindly look at my inspiration list, you will see Mr. Chris Buck comfortably nestled in between Annie Leibovitz and Chuck Close. So, yes, I have tried him.

  • Emily Shur

    @nina: No, sadly not Tina (that would be amazing as well)…slightly more obscure but just as funny (to me).

  • Amanda EScovedo

    hi. my name is Amanda. I went to the workshop yesterday. Unfortunately I didn’t get to go to your workshop. I went to Anthony Nex’s and Meg Madison’s workshop. When we had the introductions in the beginning, I found yours the most interesting. I think it was because of how you started taking photographs. Anyway, I just wanted to say you were great (as were the others) and I loved your photos and advice.

  • albertyoon

    Hello Emily~ ^^
    My name is Albert Yoon.
    I met you at the MOP workshop…
    I was 1 of Jonathan’s assistant…
    Well, the Asian one~ hehehe :)
    Just stopped by after looking at your website~
    Cool stuff!
    Very inspiring~!!!