Strange is com­pelling

Ac­tions that are un­ex­plained, or dis­tinctly un­fa­mil­iar, are another way of break­ing away from the or­di­nary

NPhoto - - Niko Pedia -

Ele­gance, which we just saw, speaks for it­self. It’s uni­ver­sally ap­peal­ing, the equiv­a­lent of a pretty sun­rise in a land­scape. How­ever, move off into the un­usual, to the kind of body move­ments and ac­tions that are un­ex­pected and odd, and you have a rich area of ‘por­trai­ture’ to ex­plore. Our at­ten­tion is al­ways caught by peo­ple do­ing what we con­sider weird things, but be­fore set­ting off on a hunt for the bizarre, it’s worth be­ing clear what ‘strange’ ac­tu­ally means.

Now this might seem ir­rel­e­vant, but I had to do just that when, years ago, I made a book called Strange Food, and it turned out, not un­ex­pect­edly, that ‘strange’ ex­isted only in my mind and that of the reader. Every­thing I pho­tographed, and I won’t go into the de­tails, was be­ing eaten with rel­ish by some­one, some­where, who thought it en­tirely nor­mal. It was my strange, and that of my au­di­ence. Of course, look­ing for this in hu­man be­hav­iour can take you into dis­taste­ful, even re­pul­sive ar­eas, but that’s a per­sonal choice (not mine, though).

What links strange­ness with strong ex­pres­sions and el­e­gant move­ments is that they are all vivid and es­cape the or­di­nary. They are a way of not be­ing sat­is­fied with every­day views of peo­ple.

Part of the cul­ture

The ex­am­ple here is cul­tur­ally strange, which is ac­tu­ally quite a safe area to ex­plore cre­atively. It just means that you have to have ac­cess to a dif­fer­ent cul­ture from yours. I was pho­tograph­ing a Ja­panese tea cer­e­mony, but with a slight dif­fer­ence. This was a weekly get-to­gether of re­tired friends in their lo­cal Tokyo com­mu­nity cen­tre, where they prac­tise. The tea cer­e­mony can be im­mensely com­pli­cated, and for me these re­hearsals were more in­ter­est­ing than the real for­mal thing, be­cause there was more in­ter­ac­tion.

Here, one of the more ex­pe­ri­enced mem­bers is in­struct­ing this lady on a par­tic­u­lar rit­ual that re­quires her to hold folded pa­per (used for wip­ing the tea bowl) in her mouth and sort of slide for­ward on her knees. Even this much ex­pla­na­tion isn’t re­ally nec­es­sary to get the point that, above all, the tea cer­e­mony can be very es­o­teric in­deed! The per­fectly ac­cept­able, but less in­ter­est­ing al­ter­na­tives, are shown smaller. In­ci­den­tally, this was an oc­ca­sion which, for me, was bet­ter pro­cessed in black and white, to re­move even muted colours that might dis­tract at­ten­tion from the ac­tion.

Our at­ten­tion is al­ways caught by peo­ple do­ing weird things, but it’s worth be­ing clear what ‘strange’ means

Re­tired friends prac­tise rit­u­als of the tea cer­e­mony in a Tokyo com­mu­nity cen­tre

Some al­ter­na­tive mo­ments, but none as in­trigu­ing as the woman hold­ing the folded pa­per in her mouth

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