Photo of Justin Bieber in a headlock

bieber

I am not the first to note the beauty and composition of this photo of Justin Bieber apparently being strangled by fellow club-goer. Not nearly. It was a bit of an internet meme, yielding mash-up photos like this, in which Bieber and his people are placed within a Renaissance milieu in what are shown to be striking similarities of form. Maxim wrote a piece called This Photo of Justin Bieber Getting Choked in a Nightclub is a Work of Art. I have not read these, only seen enough in the Renaissance compositional analysis vectors to know that I want to think my own thing about this before I read those, most of which are just waggish, hucksterish pieces anyway, I think. Everything’s a zinger joke.

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And that’s how memes go. Memes are so quick they’re like Higgs bosons 1

The photo itself is mesmerizing. Because it’s Bieber and seems to be real, captured, and just inherently beautiful. It doesn’t look like it came from any paparazzo. It’s active, candid. Colorful. How could a photo this good have been made without…more…intent? Forget the mash-ups. Just look at the photo as it is! The indifferent ring of clubbers, going about their own social lives, the centrality of Bieber’s face, Christ-like, even the hoodies and trendy Flex-fit baseball caps on the onlookers seem…ancient. Byzantine. The people around him are a perfect throng. (And are there twelve figures in the frame?) The mix of races and sexes, the various angles and attitudes of composure, leisure. It’s a perfect photo. Not a thousand words but ten thousand.

This deep burgundy backdrop, with just a few swatches of contemporary club color, like the purple blotch in the upper left quadrant. The iconic swirly painting or acoustic tile or whatever it is behind Bieber. And especially the man in the gray hood, Judas-like, looking on with what seems like an approving, almost conspiratorial will as Post Malone goes for the glottis. This figure is even more central. The figure of our complicity or our malice or our complacency.

Who is the photographer of this masterwork? Is it real?

Notes:

  1. The half-life of the Higgs particle is so quick it’s measured in something called a yoctosecond; I think this is why it’s significant.