Issue 180, Spring 2007
It’s a basic rule of humor that a joke is always at somebody’s expense. Really good jokes, however, tend to be at everyone’s expense. So it makes sense that Richard Kalvar’s photographs have no formal titles. He catalogues them by place name (Paris, New York, Rome) and date (sometime in the past four decades) but never identifies the people in them. We don’t really need to know more about Kalvar’s humab subjects—“earthlings” as he calls them—although every one of the photographs leaves us wondering: what’s happening, what do these people think they’re doing? Kalvar is not teasing us by withholding information; these are his questions, too. The photographs are unposed, found dramas staged only in the proscenium of his eye, and the mystery of all that is unexplained about them is at the root of their comedy. What we understand is how often we misunderstand or simply don’t understand all that is before us—and how rich it always is to look at.