Saturday, September 10, 2016

Strange Ritual: Pictures and Words by David Byrne (1995)

My latest selection from the St. Denis bookshelf in exile, Strange Ritual: Pictures and Words by David Byrne (1995) is a photography and essay collection featuring some pretty wonderful (and sometimes incongruous) pictures Byrne took while traveling the world making music in the 1980s and 1990s.

The photographs include series of devotional objects, street scenes, mass produced advertisements and consumer products, and (one of my favorite) odd book titles that Byrne has collected. Sometimes the images are presented alone and without comment, other times images are collaged together, juxtaposed, or exposed on top of each other. Brief remarks or captions may run down the bottom or through the center of the page, while longer essays are printed alone, between sets of photographs. All the photos are satisfyingly provided with captions at the end of the book.

 In one of my favorite of his short essays, a rumination on the difference between what other people think we are feeling and what are actually feeling runs along the bottom of a series of pictures of defaced Bollywood posters (also pictured on the cover). Byrne describes people as puppeteers with broken marionettes who are trying to adjust the strings and levers that control our tone of voice and facial expressions to make them match what we want to express, but never being able to really make what we mean and what other people understand match up.

As you may imagine, David Byrne has a wonderful eye for detail, color, and humor and his collection of photography is really fun to flip through. The themes that run through the book hold the disparate series of images together and the variety keeps it from getting boring. This is one I could see coming back to again and again.

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