(ALMOST) NO ADMITTANCE
By MICHAEL PERKINS
DOORS PRESENT A MOST INTRIGUING PARADOX for the photographer. They are both invitations and barriers, the threshhold of opportunity and the end of it. Entrances and exits create a two-way traffic, with people either vanishing into or emerging from mystery either behind or in front of them. In either case, there are questions to be answered. And while the camera is certainly no x-ray, it does set the terms of the discussion…an endless discussion… about secrets.
Think of those fateful doors beyond which we know something portentous or crucial occurs. Ten Downing Street. The portal to an execution chamber. A confessional. An organization open to “Members Only”. Doors are like red meat to the photographer because they mean everything and nothing at once. Like the children of Pandora, we inherit the insatiable curiosity to know what’s back of that thing. Who’s there? Who’s not there? What does the great Oz look like? What’s going on inside that doesn’t invite me, doesn’t want me?
All barriers seem wrong, even cruel to us, on some level. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down” writes Robert Frost in the poem Mending-Wall, and it seems like a reasonable sentiment. I can’t walk past a door, forbidding or friendly, without wanting my camera to go back and ask, knock, knock, who’s there? As an example the above image came to me unbidden, on a night in which my wife and I had walked along Queens Boulevard in New York in search of an all-night diner. Having succeeded in securing sustenance, we were walking home when a brief glimpse of a rather substantial iron gate became visible down a side street during the few scant moments it took us to skip through an intersection. I knew two things at once: I would never know what lay beyond that grand facade, and I would, still, have to make time to come back, on another night, to have my camera ask “the question.”
Photography can be about The Big Reveal, and often traffics in the solving of puzzles. But just picturing the puzzle is all right too. We don’t have to know whether the lady or the tiger is behind that door. We just have to use our magic boxes to knock on it.