Last year in commenting on a previous blog of mine, a friend used the word forensic to describe the photographs I had used. It was one of those times I wish I had thought about using it myself, because it is such a good word to relate to photography. I kept it in my head to potentially use at a later time. This is that time as it turns out, but it comes with a catch of sorts. I decided to go one step further and use the application of forensics to the music as well as the photography. For the photograph I wanted to use one that had many things to look at and required careful looking to see it all. Similarly, for the music I wanted to use a song that had multiple components. A variety of sounds that together make the song special.
The photograph I chose is one I have used a slightly different perspective of here in this blog previously (way back in Part 2). But this one has more of a closeup view of the scene which I felt necessary. I took it several years ago on the Highline, the wonderful elevated park running through portions of downtown Manhattan. The song on the other hand, is one I have long wanted to break down in this forensic manner if you will. Long before I ever began writing these blogs, I told people that if ever I were to teach music, I would start with ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ by The Temptations. The song has the complete package-vocals by The Temptations original lineup of Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin together with the music provided by Motown’s legendary house band, The Funk Brothers. There is more happening within the first 15 seconds of the song than just about any other I can think of. But perhaps for the first time here, this blog is not about song lyrics, or emotions, or memories from my past joined together with the aid of a photograph. This blog is about looking closer. Looking through the microscope to see what we can find. As you will see, in one single photograph there can be many things to look at, and in one single song, there can be many components to listen to, if you do it carefully. So let the forensics begin.
First we need the evidence, so here is the photograph-
And now the song-
Next, here are the facts as we know them. The photograph in black, the song in blue
“Harmonizing For A Photo”
PART 1- The Photos
Harmony-noun, plural harmonies.
- Agreement; accord; harmonious relations
- A consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity
- In music-any simultaneous combination of tones especially when blended into chords pleasing to the ear.
Harmony is one of those tricky words I think. In the first definition above, we come across it as an ideal worth striving for, yet as a global culture we never seem able to achieve or attain. The second and third definitions we seem to understand and appreciate more and we do better with for whatever reason. Most of us have been moved in some way by music of some sort that utilizes harmony, be it a gospel choir or bands such as the Beach Boys. I have touched on this sort of harmony in a few blogs already. But before I go into the musical portion of this blog, the soundtrack, I wanted to explore that second definition above, that consistent, orderly and pleasing arrangement of parts. That definition is useful in describing almost anything that has a sense of orderliness to it. Everything from rows of books in a library to place settings on a dinner table seem more pleasing when defined by a sense of harmony and balance. The objects complement one another into a unified whole. When one portion of that balance is upset however; a single book laying sideways instead of standing upright, a glass missing from the table setting at a restaurant, the harmony that should exist is broken. It is the individual elements or components that allow that second definition of harmony to exist and when it breaks down it does not feel orderly or pleasing. So jarring is the missing object that usually our eyes go right to it.
In preparing this installment I began thinking about objects in the photography world that did not suffer from that sort of problem. Objects that fit that definition, of consistent, or a pleasing arrangement of parts. My mind thought large scale at first, in part due to living in a large city. What could I use? The skyline of New York City itself perhaps? Spread out wide on the 13 miles of Manhattan with peaks and troughs of tall skyscrapers combined with the smaller apartment buildings such as where I live when viewed as a whole have that sort of pleasing arrangement. If all the buildings were 5 stories high, or 50 stories high it would not achieve that sort of harmony however. But when viewed as a panorama it does because one building compliments the other.
However, showing that here seemed to be very complex to me, so I thought about other areas where objects are repeated and achieve that sort of balance. Rows of lamp posts on a path, or pylons on a pier were thoughts. The crisscross pattern of steel work on bridges and buildings were another. The possibilities seemed many, but also very daunting as a photographer without certain equipment and access to photograph them. So I began thinking instead on a smaller scale, for something that could effectively show the photographic equivalent of ‘harmony’ and yet be something more manageable. As I have gone further along in these posts I have had flashbacks to writing papers in college. I remember stream of consciousness writing was discussed but I have to admit it rarely works for me. I do however seem to have a lot of stream of consciousness thinking, and lately I have taken to carrying notebooks around with me to jot things down as the inspiration hits, and I realized just the other night that the answer was in front of me the whole time, and I knew what to do for this post.