the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

TOGETHER, ALONE

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THE IRONIC NOTION THAT PEOPLE, JAMMED BY THE MILLIONS INTO CITIES, COULD ALSO BE DYING OF LONELINESS is not novel. Not to poets. Not to authors. Certainly not to photographers. T.S. Elliot’s contention that most people live lives of quiet desperation resonates with anyone who’s ever felt like the odd man out at a party, or burned a single cupcake candle on their own birthday, or hopelessly tried to bury themselves among the throngs in Times Square. What keeps this idea of “together, alone” so current in the arts is, in fact, its almost cliche level of truth. We are all in this together. And we are in all of this alone.

As photographers, we are always looking for the vision with the vision, the hidden within the apparent. Or, in the case of aloneless, the moment the mask slips, the instant in which we reveal how different, how frightened, even how miraculous we are when separated from the masses, if only for the length of a shutter snap. We pause in reverie. We reflect with sweet comfort and bitter regret. We stop to breathe, to gather our strength up anew. And our faces testify about it all.

We need to belong to things beyond ourselves, but we also need to be sufficient unto ourselves. Those two needs tug us in opposite directions, and the stress of it shows. Photographers teach themselves to see when truth surfaces like a whale coming up for a gulp of air. How strong that creature is, we remind ourselves, and yet how vulnerable. It can rove as the very master of the seas and yet, like ourselves, can drown in a teacup of water.

I look for those registrations on people’s faces, those telltale signs of someone coming up for air. A sigh. A faraway look. A laying down of burdens. Cities both supply us and suck us dry. Some of us can’t serve the two masters of together and alone for a lifetime. Others actually manage to juggle the extremes, but pay a price for their agility. The camera measures all those battles, once we teach ourselves to see. Sometimes the struggle behind our own eyes is so keen that we can’t see outwardly, even inches away, to notice the journeys of others. But with practice, observation creates a graphic map of together/alone, and our individual battles with being components in big things and prisoners of small ones.

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