Picturing irony: Making a visual case-study from the work of Camus

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Communications and Arts


Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr John Ryan

Second Advisor

Dr Rod Giblett

Third Advisor

Max Pam


This research examines irony in photography from creative and theoretical perspectives. This body of work uses an interdisciplinary theoretical framework, drawing from literary and photographic irony, in conjunction with a practice-led research methodology. The creative project, Clint’s Last Road Trip (2014), traces the 1000 kilometre journey that my brother’s body made from his death until his cremation. It depicts the behind-the-scenes of the Western Australian regional death industry with an ironic autobiographical narrative voice inspired by that of Meursault in Albert Camus’ The Outsider (1942). The photobook that results uses the drama, the text and techniques in representation and sequencing to create an ironic tone in an otherwise sentimental and nostalgic creative work. As such, the theoretical component of this research explores Camus’ use of irony in his writings. It shows the various modes Camus works within for structuring and conveying irony, specifically through dramatic plot structure, character dialogue and writing techniques.

A major outcome of this research has been the contribution to the study of irony in photography. I argue that different literary modes (dramatic irony, ironic dialogue and ironies of technique) can also be understood photographically. The exegesis and creative component concentrate mainly on documentary style photography to illustrate this position. Photographic dramatic irony occurs through revelation in multiimage sequences or through recognition in the circumstantial convergence of incongruous elements in the single image. I have also found that representational irony operates by subverting the reader’s expectations of how a particular subject should be depicted, considering all manner of photographic techniques, including lighting, colour, vantage point and lens choice. Similarly, I have observed that sequential ironies occur when a series of photographs exhibit a formal photographic language which is established and subsequently subverted. Developing Rose’s (2011) and Muecke’s (1969 & 1970) definitions of irony, the exegesis concludes that both literary and photographic irony are concerned with two messages that are constructed by contrasting outcomes (dramatic irony), statements (ironic dialogue) or formal aspects (representational or sequential techniques).

Much of the irony that exists in photography takes form after the shutter has been clicked, in the layout process (including the choice to use text), or as the photographer is deciding on a camera kit. As such, it is possible to incorporate irony into any phase of photographic production.

Access Note

Access to this thesis is restricted to the exegesis and to current ECU staff and students. Email request to library@ecu.edu.au

Access to this thesis is restricted. Please see the Access Note below for access details.