the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

EMERGENCES

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By MICHAEL PERKINS

THIS IS NOT AN EXTRAORDINARY PHOTOGRAPH. It only exists because, in the moment, I needed to make it.

Over my lifetime, the two things likeliest to draw me to the side of the road for a quick snap are the polar opposites of existence; things getting ready to be born and things waiting to die off. Both have resulted in pictures that, almost purely on impulse, I felt the urge to attempt. This one, which is of a church under construction, held special appeal to me because, after a year of endlessly looping sameness, it was something just unusual enough to break the pattern I’d established, that of making more and more pictures out of less and less.

It’s not about the church as such, or about whether the world even needs churches at this point or what they convey about our lives. It’s not that grand a concept. To tell the truth, I was more drawn to the building site for how very raw and unrealized it was, how the building is just beginning to transition from a pile of materials into a stated purpose. The round recess at the front promises to eventually hold a stained-glass window, but, for now, it’s just a hole in a wall of wood. That same wood, in all its light and color variations, will soon see all its rough-hewn texture erased by a featureless coat of plaster or paint, making it so definitively “a church” that it will lose its appeal to me as a mere arrangement of shapes. As I said, it’s when things are on the way to being something (or on the way to becoming nothing) that I feel a picture needs to be made, or attempted.

As to said attempt, I shot seven frames very quickly, in simple, stark, midday light with a 35mm prime lens and almost no plan or scheme in mind. When the angle or composition seemed right, I shot. And then I stopped. The whole thing was a matter of three minutes. And yet, after months of unbroken sameness, of being forced to mine the overly familiar in my constricted sphere of experience, trying to find new ways to see it, this almost-church became a holy thing of sorts to me, a fresh canvas on which to paint. The refreshment this little exercise brought me still puts a smile on my face some five days after the fact, and I imagine that I will always have a special affection for this picture. In a way, it sent a signal to my tired brain that there is, still, a world out there, and that I will be one of the lucky ones permitted to re-enter it. I only hope I can earn the privilege.

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