the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

BOXFULS OF HISTORY

Once, these objects were among the most important in our daily lives. Seen anew after becoming lost in time, they show a new truth to our eyes. 1/60 sec., f/4.5, ISO 100, 30mm.

 

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THERE ARE DAYS WHEN THERE IS NOTHING TO SHOOT, or so it seems. The “sexy” projects are all out of reach, the cool locales are too far away, or the familiar themes seem exhausted. Indolence makes the camera feels like it weighs thirty pounds, and, in our creative doldrums, just the thought of lifting it into service seems daunting. These dead spots in our vision can come between projects, or reflect our own short-sighted belief that all the great pictures have already been made. Why bother?

“Time is wasting”… but need not be wasted. Find the small stories of lost objects lurking in your junk drawers. 1/30 sec., f/2.8, ISO 200, 7.9mm.

And yet, in most people’s immediate circle of life there are literally boxfuls of history …..the debris of time, the residue of the daily routines we no longer observe. In Raiders Of The Lost Ark, the villain Rene Belloq makes the observation that everything can be an archaeological find:

Look at this pocket watch. It’s worthless. Ten dollars from a vendor in the street. But I take it, I bury it in the sand for a thousand years, and it becomes priceless.

Subjects ripe for still lifes abound in our junk drawers, in the mounds of memorabilia that our loving friends or spouses dreamily wish we would give to the Goodwill. Once ordinary, they have been made into curiosities by having been taken out of the timeline. In many ways, our camera is acting as we did when we first beheld them. And getting to see something familiar in a new way is photography’s greatest gift, a creative muscle we should all be seeking to flex.

Call it “seeing practice.”

Ordinary things are no longer ordinary once they are removed from daily use. Their context is lost and we are free to judge them as we cannot when they are part of the invisible fabric of daily habit. For example, how ordinary are those old piles of 45-rpm records on which we no longer drop a needle? Several revolutions in sound later, they no longer provide the same aural buzz they once did, and yet they still offer something special in the visual sense. The bright colors and bold designs that the record labels used to grab the attention of music-crazed teenagers in the youth-heavy ’60’s are now vanished in a world that first made all “records” into bland silver-colored CDs and then abolished the physical form of the record altogether. They are little billboards for the companies that packaged up our favorite hits; there is no “art” message on most of the sleeves, as there would have been on album covers. They are pure, unsentimental marketing, but the discs they contain are now a chronicle of who we were and what we thought was important, purchases which now, at the remove of half a century, allow us to make a picture, to interpret or re-learn something we once gave no thought to at all.

Old trading cards, obsolete clothing, trinkets, souvenirs, heirlooms….our houses are brimming with things to be looked at with a different eye. There is always a picture to be made somewhere in our lives. And that means that many of the things we thought of as gone are ready to be here, again, now. Present in the moment, as our eyes always need to be.

The idea of “re-purposing” was an everyday feat for photographers 150 years before recycling hit its stride. Everything our natural and mechanical eyes see is fit for a second, or third, or an infinite number of imaginings.

Your crib is bulging with stories.

All the tales need is a teller.

 

Thoughts?

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46 responses

  1. How timely is your post! Have been going through a storage shed for over a week now, AND I am having a “slump” of sorts, just as you describe. I also brought home part of my 45 records collection, and was noticing all the cool art…..hey, are you spying on me? LOL! I zoomed in, you’ve got some great titles here…..didn’t know Patty Duke ever made a record!

    August 15, 2012 at 11:28 AM

  2. She recorded about half a dozen singles during the time her hit sitcom was on, and they charted pretty well on Billboard. She had even more multi-tracking, echo and voice tricks than Lesley Gore and Nancy Sinatra put together! Keep digging in those junk drawers!

    August 15, 2012 at 5:00 PM

  3. It’s not often I read a photography blog that is so well written…love your perspective here. This is a fantastic post! 🙂

    August 16, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    • I thank you sincerely for the comment. I have been a commercial copywriter for radio and tv for most of my professional career, and when I decided to try this blog, I wanted the text to serve as context for the images, rather than merely posting a gallery of shots. I am always struggling to get the right balance between words and pictures, and I welcome your ideas now and in the future.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:50 AM

  4. I love old 45s and their sleeves. We are such old fogey vinyl junkies that we still hunt them out and buy them! Love that 4 Seasons tune ‘Beggin’!

    August 16, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    • It would be great fun to do a separate image of just “picture sleeves” as that is a sub-speciality of record collecting all by itself. Thank you so much for reading and please check back in the future. I love to point out the challenges/opportunities that all us amateurs encounter on the way to better pictures.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:46 AM

      • You have very similar interests to me! Please also feel free to drop by hattydaze any time 😉

        August 16, 2012 at 12:12 PM

  5. Love your employment of that fantastic Indianna Jones quote. Great article and great advice! I know as soon as I sit down to organize what stays and what goes to goodwill, I almost always end up in a dreamy haze, the task forgotten, picking through the small history of my young life.

    Great writing. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    August 16, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    • Thank you so much for the kind words! I think the more we all stretch our concept of what is “picture worthy” the better our shooting becomes. The eye is, after all, a muscle, and we benefit greatly from flexing it.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:47 AM

  6. I’m definitely feeling those doldrums right now, this summer has not been a great one photographically for me. Thanks for your post, I’ll start looking around for subjects I usually ignore!

    August 16, 2012 at 10:59 AM

    • It may be that I have spent too much time rummaging around in vintage stores, but I always feel the stories in forgotten objects. I wish you a grand adventure, and I truly appreciate your kind words. Check back anytime!

      August 16, 2012 at 11:48 AM

  7. I am in the process of moving house and today i found almost 100 old Polaroids from way back. I posted a selection here: http://pinkybinks.com/2012/08/16/instant-history-polaroids-from-then/ – What a timely and amazing piece. Great you got Freshly Pressed.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    • I have spent the last few years scanning slides from over 40 years ago and giving enlargements of them to the original family subjects. They have an amazing impact, not because they are great photos (they aren’t!) but because the shock of the forgotten is so profound when you re-enter a lost life. Thanks for looking and check back!

      August 16, 2012 at 5:34 PM

  8. I donated my record collection a few years back. Most of them were from the late 70s and 80s. Nothing to collectible, but there are days I wish I would have just held onto them. Finding your post makes today one of those days.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    • I appreciate your comment. I still have too many bits of property in storage and I sometimes completely forget to pore over them from time to time and let them live again.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:50 PM

  9. dellasman

    Great post! I didn’t have many 45s, but I had a lot of vinyl albums that I wish I’d kept. Maybe some photos of my old typewriter would be in order…

    August 16, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    • Sounds great. Mark Twain bought an early typewriter on impulse prior to 1900, then spent over a year just looking at it before he had the nerve to touch the thing. They were wonderfully designed machines….should be ripe for a great image. Thanks for looking.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:06 PM

  10. Your blog strikes a note with me. My father just died (nearly 100–mother died 3 years ago), and I and my siblings are going through 75 plus years of “stuff.” Memories that were long forgotten spring back into our minds.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    • And I imagine that your eye would produce images of some of those objects that would give them new life. Sorry for your loss and I hope your parents can re-visit you through the things they left behind. Take care.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:07 PM

  11. Super interesting! I also collect vinyl, old, and not so old, and… I am also a photographer!? hummm…

    Cheers!

    August 16, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    • One obsession easily leads to another. That’s the great thing about hobbies….you’re never really “finished”.

      August 16, 2012 at 5:32 PM

  12. Your blog strikes a note with me? My father just died (nearly 100 and mother died 3 years ago), and my siblings and I are going through boxfuls of history (75 plus years). Many lost memories have been renewed.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    • You are truly blessed if you are the person in your family that gets to be designated the “archivist” as I apparently have been. People think they are burdening you with the task but I find it exhilarating, and it allows those who have gone before to live again. I hope your journey is a warm one. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

      August 16, 2012 at 5:35 PM

  13. My favorite labels: APT Records and ABC Paramount

    August 16, 2012 at 1:28 PM

  14. This is a P.S. to my above comment. I spent 30 years as a professional D.J. on actual stations and to this day, after playing the same 45’s day in and day out, if someone recalls an oldie I can still tell them the label and the color of it. They are imbedded into my mind.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:35 PM

    • Oddly, I also spent the same amount of time in radio, and, to this day, when I hear a song, I see the label of the single first, even before the album cover, since, for the first five years at least, I was cueing them up hundreds of times a day (when they weren’t on carts!). Sometimes I was the person dubbing the singles to tape, so I had the visual “burned in” anyway. Thanks!

      August 16, 2012 at 5:31 PM

  15. What a great post!! I saw your photo of the 45s and knew I had to read it. I still own all the 45s I ever purchased and listen to them regularly. I miss the experience of walking into a record store and browsing for music. I have also purchased old records from yard sales and turned them into art so they could continue telling a story even if they were no longer being listened to… I’m always looking for other items to do this with and appreciate your reminder to look at all things with a fresh eye!

    August 16, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    • Thank you so much, you are very kind. I think that our eye is the only equipment we really “own”. Everything else is an extension of ourselves, so it can really only do what we command it to do. It’s a unique place to be.

      August 16, 2012 at 2:22 PM

  16. Great read! I’m too nostalgic for my own good sometimes. 🙂 I have to relocate my old albums from a credenza we no longer have to a storage bin. For the time being, the albums (45’s included) have been sitting on and around my nightstand for a month. I think I’ve subconsiously put off buying the bin because it gives me a warm feeling inside get up from my bed and look down on the floor at Larry Mullen Jr.’s face on a U2 45 I bought in Europe in 1985. Madonna’s True Blue album holds my iPhone at night. What’s old becomes new because of people like you. Finding the beauty in the objects of the past, memorializing it through photos, and sharing it brings back powerful memories for some and enlightens a younger generation.

    August 16, 2012 at 6:03 PM

    • Thanks so much for the beautiful words. I really use the odd objects in my house (there are too many) to help me learn to “re-imagine” things, as if they are items I am seeing for the first time. And didn’t we lose a marvelous source of art and design when the luxuriant 12-inch LP cover was shrunk to the size of a CD, then vanished into downloadland?

      August 16, 2012 at 6:25 PM

  17. Thanks for the nice post. I like to go through boxfuls of memories. We often save things that bring back memories of happy times, and seek out other items that we didn’t save. One nice thing about the Internet, is that we can usually at least find a picture that represents the memories we want to relive.

    August 16, 2012 at 6:27 PM

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. Another great aspect of the web is that we are free to share and compare ideas, and that is what my blog is about…starting conversations. Check back and see us from time to time.

      August 16, 2012 at 6:38 PM

  18. There are millions of untold stories in everyone’s world waiting to be unleashed through a photographic moment. Great post describing a common dilemma for most of us.

    August 16, 2012 at 7:58 PM

    • It always amazes me how things are mentally “retranslated” when framed or viewed by an “outside” eye, that is, the camera. Thank you for looking!

      August 16, 2012 at 8:50 PM

  19. GG

    Everything that in life are just parts and pieces of our beautiful memories. I really like your post. I like to take photos of my kids growing up…When I put all into a slide show, I realised that I am growing old.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:29 PM

    • All of us are old when compared to someone else.There are distinct advantages to who you are in every age. The trick is to spot them. Thanks for the comment.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:34 PM

  20. i love that photo! very nice, thanks for sharing! your post reminds me of that movie, 24hr photo..but in a non terrifying way. the antagonist wonders why no one ever takes photos of the forgotten items, the lonely items, the lost sock etc. interesting.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:47 AM

    • I’m also fascinated by the recent fad of “vernacular photography” in which people purchase the old images of strangers, either by buying piles of snapshots in vintage stores or bidding for them online. Looking at the personal moments of people who you don’t know has proven fascinating for certain people. All of our lives create poignant moments, so I guess it’s a little like reading someone’s journal….. Thanks for looking and commenting!

      August 17, 2012 at 7:55 AM

  21. Sometimes, “old’ is good again.
    I have a stack of old 33 records, which I haven’t heard for about 20 years. I must buy one of those funny looking things with an arm a round thing which rotates.
    Your post here has prompted me to do just that.

    August 17, 2012 at 10:35 PM

    • These were once part of our everyday lives, and, as such, they left their mark on our minds. Re-aquainting ourselves with them opens doors on memory and allows us to make art in new ways. Thanks for the kind words.

      August 18, 2012 at 12:36 AM

  22. Cool! That ‘Seeing Practice’ of yours. Spiritual and creative at the same time.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:34 PM

    • The creative eye is a muscle, and needs to be flexed. Here’s to keeping our viewpoint opinion!

      August 18, 2012 at 12:31 AM

  23. Indeed sad that so much of what is good is becoming obsolete.
    I’m at: http://awesomerockreviews.wordpress.com

    August 21, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    • Of course life is a series of endings and beginnings. We need to acknowledge the former while embracing the latter. Thanks for looking!

      August 28, 2012 at 9:46 AM

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