the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

KICK-STARTING THE ENGINE

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THE POPULAR IMAGE OF A BLOCK-STRICKEN WRITER HELPLESSLY STARING AT A BLANK PAGE is enough to send an empathetic chill up the spine of anyone who has ever been haunted by a deadline or stymied by a narrative suddenly gone dry. And I am convinced, as both a writer and a photographer, that there is an equivalent “block” lurking in the shadows for any shooter, a visual desert that produces stretches of formless, pointless images, dry spells that are terrifying because they are open-ended. No one knows why, for everyone from time to time, the pictures stop coming, and no one can predict when they will come back.

It’s terrifying, because it’s as if vision or imagination were accounts that one can overdraw, bouncing artistic checks all over town and leaving you feeling, like Alice, that there is no bottom, only more hole. At least it’s terrifying to me.

Torchlight  Parade, 12/14/13. 1/40, f/2.5, ISO 1000, 35mm.

Torchlight Parade, 12/14/13. 1/40, f/2.5, ISO 1000, 35mm. You work your way through dry spells with what’s at hand. 

As I write this, I have just come off several weeks of scrapings and scraps that should have been photographs but instead are equivalent to something smeared by an ape on his cage wall. I have seldom experienced such an extended period of mega-nothing, and it is only my unswerving oath to myself to shoot something, anything, every single day, that has allowed me to keep faith with the inevitable return of whatever eye I sometime possess. But, I have to admit, I am also suppressing strong urges to, like Norman Bates, lock my camera inside a car trunk and seek out the nearest swamp.

Okay, that’s a tad dramatic, but my current case of the “drys” is unnerving for a particular reason. I am typically able to conjure pictures out of nearly nothing, which is more liberating than having to wait for obvious or “big” projects. You can shoot daily if you can get off on still lifes of plastic spoons. You can’t shoot daily if you need a vacation, a birthday, or a mountain for inspiration. So it’s doubly troubling if you can’t even summon up the humble crumbs needed for some kind of image.

I know, that, at one point or another, something will demand my attention/obsession, and we’ll be off to the races again. But there is always the nagging question. What happens if I can’t kick-start the engine? Everything has a beginning and an end. So…?

Oh, wait, the light is doing something really cool just now…..

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