the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

STUBBORNS

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THE BEST OF YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS HAVE A KIND OF INEVITABILITY TO THEM, as if they were always destined to be made. Once they are finally captured, they also seem always to have existed, somehow. This is due, in part, to the fact that many of them had to fight hard to be born. That is, something about their conception or execution kept getting stuck in the pipe, try after try, until a tremendous amount of patience and work made them seem almost accidental or effortless.

I call these shots stubborns because I can almost feel them refusing to be taken, haunting me for months or even years until I can get a final take that does what I see in my head. The stubborns list contains a few that actually were tamed and brought to heel, but it’s mostly an agonizing roster of images that I have yet to nail down. Maybe the idea’s not fully formed. Maybe there’s something geographically blocking me, like a location I can’t readily get back to for a re-take. Sometimes I just haven’t brought the idea to its final, best form, unable to generate anything but near misses.

Bowl iPhone TC

Ever since I first saw this wondrous entrance to the Hollywood Bowl, George Stanley’s Muses of Music, Dance, & Drama, I have dreamed of making “the” image of it. The enormous slab of concrete, which is faced by over two-hundred and forty-five tons of granite, depicts one sitting figure and two smaller standing figures (not visible in this shot) at its left and right flank. It is the biggest WPA-New Deal-era sculpture project in all of California, completed in 1940. Beyond the sheer beauty and enormity of the thing is that fact that, to do a proper job of interpreting it, you’d have to have time to roam around the site and shoot dozens of variously wrong versions over a number of hours, then decide whether it’s more stunning by daylight or lit on concert nights.

As fate and circumstance would have it, my access to it over the space of seven years and at least fifteen visits to the Los Angeles area has been limited to this passenger-seat drive-by (okay, we were paused at a light for ten whole seconds) from 2015, shot through a smudgy window on an iPhone 5S. Ideal conditions this ain’t, and as of 2022 I am still unsure when I will manage to get onto the Bowl property to do the ladies justice. Stubborn, indeed.

My point is that the best photographs are generated in stages, or drafts, if you like. True, some masterpieces come into the world on the first click, but even those lucky winners might be improved if time and care drill down to a second, more foundational truth.

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