the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

MANY ROADS TO WHERE

By MICHAEL PERKINS

HAVING ALTERNATIVELY SHOT BOTH STILLS AND VIDEO OVER A LIFETIME, and changing which of the two formats most suit what I’m trying to convey, I have a running debate with myself concerning whether I am better suited to work in one platform versus the other. In terms of personal development as a photographer, my life basically resembles a sandwich of decades, in which my earliest and latest years were the bread layers defined by “stills”, with a shorter filler layer of years consisting of mostly moving images. Some years I’m a bread guy and other years I’m a filling guy.

Here’s the take-home: when it comes to helping me examine human behaviour, there is something about a still photograph that affords a little helpful analytical distance. The onrushing fluidity of the moving image annihilates everything but the present: everything is so completely now. In contrast, the act of pulling a moment out of time’s flow, and freezing it, allows the viewer to imagine both past and future in a very crucial and personal way. Stills “decode” in a very specific fashion: either something has just happened or something is about to happen. That leaves certain information visually unrevealed, with the viewer supplying it himself, in effect collaborating with the shooter.

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Would this image work better as one in a series of frames, i.e., a video? Or can I effectively tell my tale in this manner?

Over time, there are subjects that I certainly can’t conceive having done with a still image, thus the home-movie phase of my early years as a family man. Complete reportage was Job One as kids were teething and blowing out birthday candles, and, at the time, motion pictures seemed like the perfect tool. Later, after I entered middle age, I found myself looking for a way to create images that invited introspection and interpretation, and so I returned to stills, and haven’t wandered since. At the moment of this writing, I can confess that, in order to shoot video with cameras I’ve owned for over ten years, I’d have to consult the user manual to even recall how to go about it. In an internet-dominated image marketplace replete with video formats that are constantly altering the course of the zietgeist, am I missing out? Did I know something at twenty-five that I no longer “get” at seventy?

There are a million different roads available in photography: it can never be just one thing, and so there cannot be an absolute “right” or “wrong” way to go about it. My loooong vacation from video is not a knock against it as an expressive medium. It’s more like choosing a different paintbrush or switching from oils to acrylics. And yet I love to hold this endless debate just to check my thinking, the ultimate object being the correct selection of tools for where I need to be right now.

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