the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

THE GREAT RIDDLE

By MICHAEL PERKINS

IT’S FORTUNATE THAT NONE OF US HAS ANY IDEA WHAT APPEALS TO OUR VIEWERS, or else everything we do would revert to a dull formula. If it was possible to predict which of our creations would establish a connection with other hearts and minds, wouldn’t our human nature tempt us to churn out clumsy duplicates of that creation again and again? You see this at craft shows where “artists” hawk dozens of copies of the same image to anyone who passes by, customizing only the frames and enlargement sizes. The first version of the idea was “art”;  the cannily repackaged remakes are merely marketing.

With this in mind, the act of putting photographs on the web via various sharing sites is often a puzzling process, since I have no way of knowing whether anything I regard as “successful” will total even one view, and since the pictures I regard as merely “all right” may resonate in a fashion that I never foresaw. Again, I have no control over any of this, which makes it both gratifying and, well, stupefying.

Dream Gardens, Los Angeles (2013). 1/250 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.

Dream Gardens, Los Angeles (2013). 1/250 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.

You’re looking at the runaway champ photo for total views in my entire Flickr photostream. To me, it’s a bit of whimsy at best, and, if I am totally truthful, an attempt at a partial “save” on what started out to be a rejected image. Backstory: the massive and visually busy central gardens at Los Angeles’ Getty art campus are wonderful to walk through, irresistible to shoot, and a nightmare to capture. If you do the cliché overhead “master shot” of the entire area from, say, two stories in the air, you get something which generally work. However, trying to get a sense of the densely landscaped details at ground level is a fool’s errand. This shot represents a kind of surrender, as it was an attempt to create a quiet composition along one of the more sparse sections of one footpath. Even so, what you’re seeing here is a paring-away of more than half the original frame. There was just too much visual information to work with.

The psychedelic rework on the color is yet another sign that I am not truly comfortable with what I am doing, but it at least represents an attempt to create an “otherness” with the image, to take it out of the normal world. This strategy gave me a picture I could live with, but hardly one I would point to with pride. The verdict from every one else? 5,000 % more eye traffic than the next most popular picture I’ve ever posted on the web, and no sign of slowing. And yet, I know that if I intentionally take another picture like this, it won’t become part of a “series” or a “school of thought”, merely me trying to cash in on a great riddle.

We use our photography to make a case for our various visions to an unknown jury, but, in most cases, we sort of “get” what worked about a picture. But when mysteries like these occur, we can merely

a) be grateful

b) say goodnight, Gracie.

I am reminded about an old bit where Billy Crystal “imitated” famous people by cutting out the mouths of big posters of various icons, then sticking his own lips where theirs should be and “speaking” for them. I fell on the floor as he took his place behind a huge image of  Albert Einstein, and in his best Catskills accent, kept repeating, “WHO KNEW? WHAT DID WE KNOW??”

What, indeed.

Follow Michael Perkins on Twitter @MPnormaleye. 

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