THE YEAR OF SEEING DIFFERENTLY
By MICHAEL PERKINS
FOR YEARS, I HAVE READ INTERVIEWS WITH VARIOUS PHOTOGRAPHERS that include some form of the question, “why do you think you first picked up a camera?” Some answers are profound, detailed, while others are more along the lines of “because it was there”, or “well, why not? In 2021, as the surfaces of many of our personal cocoons begin to crack a bit, a more relevant question might be “why will you next pick up a camera?” All art is fueled by motivations, by the need to create an outside expression of the person within. Change that person, or, in our case, change the entire human species, and motivations, and the art they create, will likewise be altered.
All of which is to say that, without a doubt, I am somehow a different kind of photographer today than I was a year ago. The fact that I can’t yet analyze in what specific ways that change has manifested itself is beside the point. Every cell in our bodies is a replacement for a cell from an earlier version of our physical selves, and yet the change has come about so gradually that we feel that we are the same person that we always were. It will take time, and the evidence of my work, to be able to see how this last year has adjusted how I see, and more importantly, what I now choose to look at.
This online forum, now in its tenth year, was never designed to be a meditation on my personal life, and that’s generally the way I like it. I can talk all day about why I decide to make a picture, and I have tried to find, in those reflections, something that is universal to the growth of every photographer. Sharing things more personal than the creation of an image, however, comes less naturally to me, a strange admission from someone who has chosen social media as a platform, but there it is. I always feel that the work will provide and clues to the person that created it better than my poor power to add or detract, or indulge in any freehand navel-gazing.
It will be some time before any of us can draw a clean line from “the kind of pictures I used to make” to “here’s how I see now”. I do know, however, that there’s been a huge change in the subject matter that’s available to me to shoot, whether it’s the faces of distant loved ones or the loss of routine hangs. But just being forced to create photographs with different stuff is not the whole issue; being persuaded to actually see differently is where the rubber meets the road, or, if you will, where the eye meets the viewfinder. I have been fortunate enough to see most of my old world emerge from this global nightmare intact, a fact that I consider a miraculous, if random, gift. I have been given what photographers value most; time. Now let’s see what I can do to identify the work to be done before me, both as a photographer and as a human being. No doubt new narratives and stories will emerge. And they will all need illustrations….