the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

PRELUDES AND POSTLUDES

By MICHAEL PERKINS

PROFESSIONAL PHOTOJOURNALISTS KNOW THAT ARRIVAL TIME IS CRUCIAL. Show up before the story gets underway and you shoot empty podiums and uncut ribbons. Show up after the event, and you’re watching the janitor sweep away its debris. Making a picture of a set thing in its best moment is largely luck, however, and just because you are either too early or too late for the action doesn’t mean that you’re robbed of a story.

Anticipation, at least the right kind, can be as dramatic as the promised happening. In some cases, even more so, since many “big moments” can fail to live up to the hype. Just ask the International Olympic Committee. Likewise the aftermath of a key event can produce its own letdown or cool-off energy that may also be grist for the camera. What I’m suggesting is that before’s and after’s are not necessarily the “wrong” times to comment on something. Both the prelude and the postlude have their own visual grammar, if you develop an eye for reading what they have to say.

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Party Of Three, 2022

On the morning that I caught this scene, I had to leave the park I was in well ahead of the guest of honor’s arrival. Thus the only picture I could make of his birthday party was the way it might look when he first clapped eyes on it. Everything about this scene appealed to me, although I had to look back at the picture to appreciate just what I was appreciating (stay with me for a moment). For starters, I just loved the simple, low-tech homemadeness of the thing. The way the various tree-anchored balloons bounced and bobbled in the light breeze. The way the midday sun caught and amplified all the colors and helped them pop. The thrill of imagining a three-year-old boy taking in the scene of all those flying and floating dinosaurs, as well as the raptors on the tablecloth. It looked like a blueprint for success. I had to wait on the wind to balance the composition by flying the balloons into the best position, but other than that, it was a point-and-shoot without a lot of over-thinking.

The only thing missing for me, later, lie in wishing that I could have sneaked back for a look at the  crumbled cake, the popped balloons, the discarded gift wrap. A kind of bookend to the day. But even though I hadn’t witnessed either the actual party or its denouement, I didn’t really need to: I had already witnessed pure joy.

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