MAYBE A CIGAR, ANYWAY
By MICHAEL PERKINS
A FACE ONLY A MOTHER COULD LOVE. That’s the standard cliche in describing someone so unlovable that he or she has, at best, a devoted audience of maybe one. The saying used to apply solely to physical beauty, but can, these days, define anyone or anything that is just this side of universally loathsome. Substitute the word picture for face and photographer for mother, and you’ve summed up what some of us feel for our rejected images, the ones we bitterly hate and desperately love at the same time.
The image see here is one of my own top five red-headed stepchildren, a picture that is so close to being exactly what I wanted of it, yet so technically flawed that any person of taste or perception would immediately consign it to the rubbish bin, and with good reason. And yet, year after year, doing my annual “rehab tour” of pictures that I somehow can’t permanently destroy, it pops up, begging for love or at least a little maternal forbearance. My attitude is not so much close, but no cigar as much as can I have just one hit off of YOUR cigar? For effort?
The shot was taken in the circular rotunda that acts as the initial vestibule of entry to Griffith Observatory, which sits like a gleaming Art Deco Sci-Fi castle atop a promontory that overlooks downtown Los Angeles. The Keck rotunda’s walls are rich with murals that celebrate the great celestial and scientific discoveries of the ages, and the Foucault pendulum, seen here as the recessed circle that several patrons are starting into, bathes faces in a warm uplight that makes them look like glowing participants in a Maxxfield Parrish painting. In this snap (and it was a “snap”, with no more planning or intention than the word implies) the random poses of the crowd, including the young woman doing an “oh, wow” as she enters through a door, look impossibly staged, something that endears it to me years later.
But, then there’s that total blowout of high blue and white light from the parking lot, taken in an attempt to capture the entrance’s unique metal grillework. I mean, the entire effect of the picture screams “preliminary sketch”, only I didn’t go back and do the technical work that would have corrected the contrast, color rendition or overall exposure. Never has so much raw material been presented with so little in the way of decent execution.
And therein lies the face “only a mother could love”. Like any mom, we love in spite of what our kids actually are, in spite of what they actually achieved. And we weep a little about what might have been, of what little more effort it might have taken to actually win the cigar.