the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

WHAT COULD BE

My umpteenth piano picture over a lifetime, but one which at least shows me something I don’t usually see. Available light, straight out of the camera. 1/50 sec., 5/5.6, ISO 100, 18mm.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THERE ARE ALWAYS CONCEPTS THAT YOU FORCE YOURSELF TO RE-VISIT, almost to the point of obsession. We all have subjects that, as photographers, we just can’t stop turning over in our minds. This reluctance to “just move on” may occur with a place, a person’s face, an arrangement of shapes, a select element of light, but, whatever the source, it gnaws at us. We dream of the next chance to go back and tackle it again. We truly believe that the “right” shot is in there somewhere, just as a statue of an elephant is somewhere inside a slab of marble. As the old joke goes, just chip away anything that doesn’t look like an elephant and there you are (That’s either a really stupid joke or amazing profundity. Depending on which day you ask me, I can take either side. Anyway….).

I have at least one restaurant, a small city park, about a dozen still life projects, and one or two human faces that haunt me in this way. In every case, I get stuck on the idea that, with a moment of inspiration, I’m one click away from the ideal I see in my mind. Only, like a desert mirage, the ideal keeps wiggling and warping into something else. Maybe I’ve already made the best version of that picture already. Maybe there really is nothing more to be done.

Arnold Newman’s amazing abstract portrait of a piano, “accompanied” by composer Igor Stravinsky. This is a copyrighted image.

As a lifelong musical tinkerer, I’ve always been interested in pianos both as machines that are crafted to do incredibly complicated things, and as a kind of sculpture, a shaper of space and light. Some photographers have used them as incredibly dynamic design elements to remarkably dramatic effect. Arnold Newman’s classic portrait of composer Igor Stravinsky uses only the lid of a concert grand to flank the maestro, but it’s all the piano he needs to tell the story and it’s a wondrous horizontal use of space. Others have created brilliant images using just portions of the keyboard. Do a search of your own and be amazed at the variety of results.

Me, I’m a “guts” kinda guy. Lifting the lid on my first piano to see what made it tick was one of the most thrilling moments of my childhood, and, now, years later, I see the mechanism inside my own baby grand as a way to reflect, capture and shape light. It’s like having a giant Spirograph or a metallic spider web. Lots of ways this could go. In the above image, morning light gave me a big break, as the golden cast of the good, early stuff blended with ambient tones in the harp strings and the inside of the cabinet. While the light falls off sharply at the margins, it makes much of the mechanism fairly glow, and, while I can’t stop tinkering with my lifelong “piano-as-design-object” quest (at least this side of the grave), I think this is a step in the right direction. Where we’re eventually going, who knows?

As usual, I’m just enjoying the ride.

Thoughts?

Advertisements

2 responses

  1. aldraggin

    Michael—-i love your struggle, and your expressions of it. i do wish, occasionally, that i might prevail upon you to simply dive into your experiences and take pleasure in them. i know that is to miss the point, for the experience is to savor the thoughts that cling to it. i have been there occasionally, and have felt the contest between the momentary ecstasy of capturing an image and the satisfying assessment afterwards. while working for more and better, i still strive to honor and enjoy that which led me to the moment when i decide to capture imagery.

    October 10, 2012 at 6:54 PM

  2. Yes, you are right, there is always the risk of over-thinking a thing, and thus under-feeling it. I can sometimes forget that this is an emotional art as well as a technical one. As an illustrator, I always grappled with the distance between the thing I saw and the thing I could force out of my fingers. Shooting is the same. Thanks for the encouragement!

    October 10, 2012 at 8:11 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s