FROM HERE TO THERE EVENTUALLY
By MICHAEL PERKINS
IN THE HALTING EARLY DAYS OF PHOTOGRAPHY, the only thing balkier than the making of an image was in getting one’s work seen outside the artist’s personal social circle. Several dozen technical revolutions later, we take real-time distribution networks for granted, accustomed to a reality with literally no time lag between the generation of a picture and its dissemination to the world at large. Click, it exists. Click Click, it’s published. That is now the rhythm of a photograph. It’s ours, and everybody’s, in the same instant .
That immediacy has proven to be of incredible value in our most recent Great Hibernation, as a virtual way of compensating for the shrinking of our material worlds. Early 19th-century photographs were initially stunted in their impact on society, since they had to overcome the obstacles of space and time to reach mass audiences. A picture made in one place had to be physically shipped or transported to the few centers from which it could be faithfully reproduced and effectively shared. A lockdown of the entire world in such a time would have corraled art into small local sectors of influence, whereas Covid-19 internees have lost nothing in the options for connecting their visions with the entire globe at a keystroke. Thus our literal isolation has a kind of modern-day antidote, in that our art can travel where we cannot. And so, in terms of images, two opposing statements are nonetheless equally true: we are all going through this alone, and we are all going through this together.
Photographs have indeed proven the great storytellers in this weird, weird banishment. In the years ahead, volumes will be written on the psychic and emotional damage suffered by those who will have survived these times. That damage is real, and will probably be long-lasting for some. But, in what must be one of the most bizarre sources of comfort possible, it’s hard to imagine how much worse the isolation would have been in an earlier time, a time when going it alone also meant not being able to release a little carrier pigeon of wonderment or hope via our poetry, our wonderings, or our pictures. Can a camera save one’s sanity? Not literally, of course. However, the time-honored thrill of being able to simply shout across a canyon and get an answer back has a modern analog, and sometimes that echo comes in the form of an image.