Deadpan Photography and Joel Sternfeld

When discussing deadpan photography a few weeks back, I was a little confused. I understood what it takes for a photograph to be considered deadpan. It lacked emotion, in the sense of a portrait, or even a scene. However, I did not know how to apply this to photos I was actually seeing. How did I distinguish a photograph as deadpan? I’m still trying to figure that out.

Anyways, Bob was nice enough to provide some “further research.” One of the artists was Joel Sternfeld.

He has some really interesting work. Would I consider it deadpan? I’m not sure, but definitely worth looking at. He has some lovely landscape work, with human presence.


This one I find very interesting. It seems in some of his photographs he is lucky enough to stumble about incidents that happen. There is one photograph of a pumpkin patch/Farm Market, with a house fire being put out in the background. Another is this shot with a car that has fallen down the side of cliff. Both photographs read as more humorous to me. Especially because the accident (house fire and car) read as not as important in the image.


I also love this photograph. The landscape is nearly consuming the small people enjoying the view. It reminds me a lot of older National Geographic photographs. The man vs nature relationship is definitely present in this photograph and others like it. Nature seems to be triumphing.

Now is either of these photographs deadpan photography? I don’t see either as lacking emotion. In images that aren’t portraiture, how do we identify something without emotion, when people have different reactions to images?

Feel free to give your opinion on either of the photographs, and deadpan photography in general.

Do you have any good photographers that really capture the idea of deadpan? Send them my way!


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