I remember watching jazz pianist Bobby “The Wild Man” Enriquez on tv with my dad when I was a kid. I never really understood the melodic mayhem coming off those maniacal fingers of his. But pops seemed fascinated. Me? Impatient to say the least being the kid that I was but the very short memory of that night did stay for reasons unknown.
Fast forward to present day and here I am looking at a series of photographs that I’ve taken over the past few months. I noticed certain preferences that vacillated between classical and seemingly “off-key” compositions across or within genres.
Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro, Beethhoven’s fifth, Rodin’s Thinking Man, The Porsche 911, hell, The Leica M, all have rhythmic logic that lends itself to easy appreciation. In contrast, off-key composition (I loosely refer to it as off-key but not to say it isn’t rhythmic. It is. But not easily categorized or discerned) that one sees from photographers like Daido Moriyama isn’t as intellectually accessible. Or how about that bicycle wheel that is stuck on a stool, passing off as sculpture by Duchamp? Well, who am I to say that it isn’t? His work is in MOMA after all.
I say “intellectually”. And I think this is where this particular type of composition branches off into something else entirely. From my very limited understanding (not necessarily appreciation), this type of composition can only come from something primal. I grasp at words to explain it but I think once you get into this kind of vibe, it’s hard to shake off. It stays with you. It haunts me, to be honest. Because it’s not something that you can predict to happen. All you can really do is coax your brain to be on the lookout for something that looks and feel similar. Or attempt to rewire your brain from I’ll know it when I see it to I’ll feel it when I see it.
Stand in a corner of some street and it can go this way or that. My exposure to classical composition takes over and I see myself trying to make geometric sense of a scene before “something” happens. But then once in awhile, the wild man takes over and presses the shutter. You capture something inexplicable. These are the types of images that one can carelessly dismiss as candidates for deletion. Beauty so precarious; on the brink of extinction at a touch of a button.
That night when I saw the wild man confuse the hell out of those piano keys, it could have easily just been deleted from memory. I didn’t understand it. I’m not sure I was even attracted to it. I felt no reason for it to occupy a minuscule real estate in my mind. But it did. And it was only years later that I began to understand. Well, I don’t really understand it. It’s more like acknowledging that there are other ways to look at things. Think Newton taking a peek at Quantum Physics. How about Bach listening to the mad genius of Bobby Enriquez? Or heck, an erstwhile COBOL programmer like myself looking for the first time at a compressed code of C (which made me realize that being in IT was going to be a short-lived affair).
What is captivating about these types of composition is that it introduces the mind to possibilities; to a certain aesthetic openness. A cropped head suddenly becomes interesting and not necessarily a misfire in framing. Of course, this kind of aesthetic carries with it a certain sense of responsibility. Most cropped heads are really just products of amateurish miscalculation. And this is where it gets really tricky because one’s chopped head can easily be another man’s magnum opus.
I offer no enlightenment here. And I’m not saying that this type of composition is superior to Bresson’s. All I can propose is for people to give pause before passing judgement… or pressing that delete button. Give that strange image a chance. You just never know when the wild man will come out and make its genius known to you.