When I was in Art School we had this photo assignment: do a self portrait combing elements of your own identity with those of someone else. Who? Anyone, an influence in some way. It was a good assignment, but I think I lacked the language at the time to really make sense of it.
Wait did I say… make sense…?
Maybe not. I chose the musician David Byrne, who was then and still is a strong influence for me. At the time, the Jonathan Demme film Stop Making Sense had just come out, a straight up a live performance of Byrne’s seminal band the Talking Heads. The blend of groovy weirdness, human synergy, and completely guileless lyrics – cryptic and telling at the same time… what to say, I was gobsmacked by the inspiration of it all. Not to mention the Big Suit.
I thought – isn’t it beautiful? when we just loosen our grip on all those preconceptions about being serious sensible humans. The quirky fake documentary “True Stories” confirmed my appreciation of Byrne’s deadpan curiosity and willingness to believe in the beauty and wonder in the commonplace, even mundane.
The opening sequence there has a definite photographic feel to it… makes me think of Edward Burtynsky’s work. Last year I tried a hip-shot of a group of kids, entirely inspired by the latter part of this scene.
It’s like that. Like most junkie photographers, my eyes are busy cropping things, through one filter or another. I’ll admit it – the commonplace weirdness of the True Stories world still filters my camera eye.
The sheer breadth of David Byrne’s work is surprising: collaboration with a brass ensemble for the theatrical piece The Knee Plays, the eerie orchestral / vocal music to The Forest (“I wanted to be able to sympathize with those who feel the romance of the factory. The beauty, the power, the possibilities of the machines that would change the world”), numerous collaborations with Brazilian musicians, supporting other artists through his record label Luaka Bop, up to a more recent collaboration with Fatboy Slim for a theme album based on the unlikely storyline of the relationship between Filipino socialite / political force Imelda Marcos and her live-in nanny Estrella Cumpas (“Here Lies Love“)…the guy just doesn’t observe conventional borders.
Going on 3 decades as an artist, Byrne’s work reflects a lot of the qualities that I aspire to, both in photography and in life in general. Focused curiosity, outside-the-box creativity tempered by tremendous proficiency where it’s needed, and a healthy (maybe chronic?) willingness to snoop into alternative narratives and to flip conventional virtues upside down, just to see what they’d look like. To turn them over and share them with others, allow them to spin out their own stories without imposing some heavy meaning on them. It’s weird, liberating.
A while back I made a little resolution with my blog writing – to take refuge a little less often in nostalgia (it’s so easy, using photography as a springboard to wallow through memories…) and instead delve into the unknowns. This is proving to be a challenge. I’m slowly populating the lyrics to one of Byrne’s pieces with images (“In the Future”). Unfinished and in no particular order…
This particular tune is delightfully catchy, deadpan fun.
Back in Art School (uh-oh… nostalgia alert…) my instructor seemed unimpressed, politely bemused by my admiration for this “pop star”. Whatever. Last words on flowers and shopping and irony.
…there was a shopping mall
Now it’s all covered with flowers
you’ve got it, you’ve got it
If this is paradise
I wish I had a lawnmower
you’ve got it, you’ve got it…
(Nothing But Flowers, from the Talking Heads Album Naked)