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A photographic ‘faux pau’ is what is traditionally be thought of as a ‘mistake’, such as the photographers shadow in the shot, a tree or lamp growing out of a head, out of focus, heads chopped off or if a finger or thumb is over the lens.

In this post I am sharing some examples of how the repetition of a faux pau can be can have meaning in a body of work.


John Baldessari, an American conceptual artist is king of faux pau and made a series in 1967 called ‘wrong’ this image below being the most famous. He creates an image with intentionally bad composition. He enjoys breaking rules and push boundaries. Check out this film about him here: A SHORT HISTORY OF JOHN BALDESSARI

Wrong, 1967 - John Baldessari -

John Baldessari is in love with Jean Luc Goddard who is also the king of faux pau deliberately ‘crosses the line’ in filmic technical terms and ‘breaking’ technical rules in terms of composition or editing technique in order to make a scene uncomfortable or causing slight confusion for the viewer.


Jean-Marie Donat is an obsessive collector of orphaned photos. It’s fascinating that the Faux Pau in this series, Preditor, is the shadow of the photographer – yet at the same time the shadow is the protagonist.

Jean-Marie Donat, from the book Predator 


I think this is another great example of a photographic faux pas – good or bad is subjective, but I personally love the deliberate broken technical rule, playing with the audience’s assumption that this is a ‘bad snapshot’.¬† He uses this technique a lot in his work, focusing on the background even though the person in the foreground is looking into the lens.

(Image found on Lens Culture РWeymouth, England, 1995-1999 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos. Courtesy of Kunst Haus Wien)