Creepy or Comic? Dissection of a Still Life Photograph

‘It’s A Clown’s World’ is one of my favourite Still Life photos that I have shot.  

It's A Clowns World

It's A Clowns World

For me, there is visible humour in the clown’s reactions to each other, particularly in the position of the blonde clown on camera right.  I also really like the look that the Clown in the middle is giving the viewer.  It’s almost as if he is thinking, “You find this funny too, right.”  The guy in the box is smiling at the two others on the outside, as if they were his friends, and seems blissfully unaware that he is is trapped.

It’s the being trapped and being laughed at, which provides the creepiness to this image, and also the fact that they are clowns, which as you are probably aware, is a fear for many people on this planet. I am aware that the phobia is called,‘Coulrophobia’.

When I set out to make this photo, I knew that I wanted to create something bizarre. The box’s clear plastic window inspired me to dream up the ‘being caged’ idea.  I was particularly drawn to the pattern around the box and the writing as certainly had a vintage look to it and this only added to my final vision for this Still Life Photograph.

The idea that I came up with, of the clown being stared at in the box, reminded me of late 19th Century Freak Shows and in particular David Lynch’s 1980 film,‘The Elephant Man’, which has always been a favourite of mine.

The setting of the film, the dark, dirty streets of the Victorian East End of London, filmed in glorious Black and White, inspired the tone and the background of my image.

I wanted to create a rough, textured wall and the grimy floor to reflect the dark and oppressive streets and the eerie Freak Show that you see in the film.  

In reality I simply used a dark blue, textured thick wrapping paper for the wall, and I dirtied up some large black tiles for the flooring.  I converted the image to Black and White in Lightroom and added some extra grime to the scene in Photoshop.

The Black and White conversion gave the image the classic, old photo look that I had in mind.  The dark vignette around the edges that you see, works to centre the focus on the characters and it adds a slight oppressive darkness to the space that they inhabit.

The three clowns that you see, in reality is just the one bendable ornament, that I placed in different positions, and then composited the three different shots of the clown together in Photoshop and changed their hair colour in Lightroom.  

I used a grid spot overhead on the left to the light the box and a softbox overhead right, to light the clowns.

I can see how these clowns could be sweet to some people.  They are small, certainly have friendly grins and soft features on their faces. Would I have like them to look more creepy?  Yes, I would have loved to maxed out a total creepy version of this photo. With truly scary looking clowns cackling at the cute one in the box.  I could have used a grid spot to light the two clowns, giving them more of a shadowy darkness to their faces.

However I realise the lighting I chose and these particular clowns were the right choice.  They have their sweet charm and comic stances which gave this photo a lightness that was needed, taking away the ‘Horror’ theme, that I could have gone with.  This photo has a theme that is what I would call, ‘Comically Creepy’.