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