MIND OVER MACHINE
By MICHAEL PERKINS
I no longer believe that there is such a thing as objectivity. Everyone has a point of view. Some people call it style. But what we’re really talking about is the guts of a photograph. When you trust your point of view, that’s when you start taking pictures.
NONE OF MY FAVORITE PHOTOGRAPHERS are primarily technicians. Certainly I value the basic mastery required to extract the best mechanical performance out of one’s camera, but I don’t think that a lack of such knowledge necessarily dooms a picture. I do, however, believe that no lens on earth can compensate for a deficiency of mindfulness in the photographer. I cite Annie Leibovitz here because I believe she deftly walks the creative tightrope between an essential understanding of how photography works and a poetic gift for finding how it works for her. She knows her gear as much as is necessary: she knows her heart as much as is possible.
On a shoot, once I’ve established that the camera is on and the lens cap is off, I endeavor to disconnect with the gear and re-connect with the twelve-year-old who first gasped as he gazed through a viewfinder. That kid knew that everything was possible. More precisely, he didn’t know enough to realize what wasn’t possible, and so blithely proceeded to try it all. His older brother (me) wants to point out that the light is wrong, that he packed the wrong lens, and that, maybe, he just doesn’t actually know how to make the picture. Worse yet, he might know just enough to worry that his work won’t register with others. The twelve-year-old doesn’t care.
My photo gods are all people who know all the things that can go wrong with a shot and take the shot anyway. They are not waiting for their moment. They are jumping out of the plane and trusting the chute to open. More to the point, they are trusting themselves.
“I still have a very limited knowledge of the technical side of photography”, Linda McCartney wrote in 1992, looking back upon her amazing body of documentary work in the rock demimonde of the ’60’s. “I prefer to work by trial and error because some of my best pictures have come precisely because I didn’t know enough. By having the “wrong” setting, I’ve actually come up with something good….”