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Angelo Munafo: Epistrophy

photo of Max Hoenig

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Posted on March 5, 2015  by Angelo Munafo

Max Hoenig has never been one to conform to the mainstream. At the meager age of ten he started his own baseball card trading empire on eBay. Soon after, he joined a world-renowned boys choir that brought him to six of the seven continents (including Antarctica!). For nearly a decade he was the protégé of an African drum guru who taught him the art of beat-making. He abandoned classical piano in favor of his true passion, jazz, naturally possessing the voicing techniques of a veteran keys player. Max is a philosopher at heart and frequently conducts his own mini-social experiments to evaluate how humans think and interact. His gregarious nature and psychological curiosity make him disposed to seek out encounters with strangers. Most normal folks our age would tend to avoid these “awkward” social dynamics. But like I mentioned earlier, Max has always marched to the beat of a different drum (that being a djembe, of course). While most people are receptive to his forthright interactions and often nonsensical ramblings, some outsiders are caught off guard by this unique persona. That being considered, Max’s self-proclaimed mantra for life has become, “I like don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable, I just want to make them confused.”

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DJ looking for music in library

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Max was an ideal subject for my portraiture endeavors due to the close bond we have developed on the fourth floor of UPenn’s, King’s Court College House. I share Max’s passion for music and, more specifically, jazz, which ended up being a great launching point for our friendship and now infamous radio show. I chose to photograph Max in the setting of this show because it is a location in which we spend two and a half hours working, doing what we love every week. The station’s setup is also ideal for a shoot because the expansive album-lined walls and interactive control room provide a visually interesting backdrop and physically engaging medium in which my subject could immerse himself. The studio is undoubtedly the perfect place to capture Max in harmony with the natural environment—surrounded by musical compositions as varied as his personality. My images depict a sort of “organized chaos” that is very much present in jazz, a genre notorious for complex solos and improvisational strokes of genius. The free-formed essence of jazz is certainly not for everyone; however, it coincides perfectly with the essence of Max. The generally solemn expressions portrayed by my subject, accentuated in some cases by conversion to black and white, reflect the sophistication of jazz when compared to modern or popular music. As primarily instrumental forms of artistry, there is something inherently more “serious” about jazz and classical alike; appreciation thereof requires more nuanced thought and attention than do mindless styles like classic rock (which, don’t get me wrong, probably supersedes even jazz for the top spot on my list of musical preferences). Especially given the metaphysical discussions common amongst ourselves, I wanted to be sure to convey that critical, reflective quality in my images.

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dj contemplating in studio

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I chose to title my collection, “Epistrophy,” paying homage to the classic song by Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane. The term itself (spelled epistrophe), is defined as “repetition of a word or expression at the end of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses, especially for rhetorical or poetic effect.” This concept persists throughout the song in the form of a repetitive pattern of notes that constitutes the melody. Even more broadly, all jazz really comes down to epistrophe, since it consists of a series of chord changes that cycle through the same progression over and over again. This repetition continues for however long a gap the musicians choose to allot for improvisation, typically bookended on both sides by the head (melody) of the song. Furthermore, jazz is built upon the recurring usage of a specific type of chord quality (be it minor, major, suspended, dominant, augmented, etc) within a particular piece. The unpredictability of improvisation juxtaposed against the constancy of a chord progression is analogous to the way Max’s bright Phillies-Flyers hoodie pops out against the ubiquitous patterns that define the studio. My selection features colorful patterns and textures consistent with the theme of “epistrophy”—specifically in the rows of CD’s, LP’s, acoustical foam tiles, and knobs that monopolize the scene.

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Portrait of musician Max Hoenig

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Thanks to the carefully sorted chaos that characterizes both the WQHS studio and the song Epistrophy, we can unpack a more beautiful, deeper meaning from a superficially unimpressive spectacle. Just as this deeper analysis is necessary to more fully comprehend music, so is it key to understanding the spectrum of passions held by my dear friend Max Hoenig.

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Portrait of musician Max Hoenig

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Photography and Text by Angelo Munafo, Copyright 2015

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About the Author: Angelo Munafo is freshman enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2018.