COME TO THE DUMB SIDE
By MICHAEL PERKINS
“I dream with my eyes open.”—-Jules Verne
THE MAKING OF A GOOD PHOTOGRAPH IS A CHALLENGING ENOUGH ENTERPRISE that it’s understandable that many a photographer loses either his emotional balance or his sense of humor or both in the process. As artistes, we are so very, very earnest in our pursuit of the image that we can become a little, well tedious. All work and no play makes Jack take four hours to take a picture.
I always believe that, when you are mired in a problem, the bravest thing you can do is to, well, run away. Call it play, call it goofing off, call it cleaning out the pipes, or call it late to supper: the idea is to change the conversation. Of course, if you’re physically stuck in a rain-soaked duck blind awaiting the annual return of the pied-billed grebe, it’s a little tough to break camp (or your concentration) for the salvation of play. Besides, if the pied-billed grebe is your idea of a good time, then godspeed, John Glenn, and please don’t expect us to sit through your slides upon your return. Not without beer, anyway.
No, I’m talking about the value, the actual soul-salvaging power of stupid. The palate-cleansing function of creating the visual equivalent of a stuck-out tongue. In taking the time to solve the problems involved in the creation of a “dumb picture”, you are also exercising the muscles of your mind that have been cramped up in your more serious work.
I’m reminded of the process used at the little building on the weird end of the Warner Brothers lot where Looney Tunes shorts were created. It was a working method which startled messengers and delivery boys alike, who often entered the office to see Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and other animators capering about in animal costumes or funny hats as other Tuners recorded their gyrations with 16mm home-movie cameras, the better to animate you with, Grandma. Now some of you troublemakers might be tempted to remark, “but they were making cartoons. How is that serious work?”, to which I reply that perhaps you and I had better take this outside and settle the matter like gentlemen.
The above shot is the result of one dollar in investment (the weird squirt gun, complete with cosmic lighting bolt), a little rooting around under the sink (for the work glove), and ten minutes of fanciful fun. Not being fortunate enough to have Buster Crabbe here to model my fantasy (he’s in Actor Hell learning how to better deliver his lines), I managed to use my own left hand to wield my weapon while shooting with my right. And if you think you can do that without looking stupid….well, I’m just as glad the wife didn’t walk in on me, especially since I had been tasked, on this particular day, with kitchen duty.
Which is all to say, as if it needed repeating (or even peating) that fun is essential to the process of photography. When the well runs dry, you’d better re-fill it quick…with water, Mr. Bubble, Cherry Kool-Aid, or a nice, refreshing bucket of stupid.