By MICHAEL PERKINS
IT OCCURRED TO ME, RECENTLY, TO LIST SOME OF THE WORKS OF ART that have imparted the greatest sense of peace to me, and to take note of how many of them were first conceived in a spirit of resistance or struggle.
A few come to mind at once: the stirring finale of Tchaikovsky’s 1812: the stirring images of Dust Bowl Americans striving to emerge from devastation and despair: nearly every page of every Dickens novel. Many of the things we recognize as artistically eternal or universal were originally created as protests, as deliberate acts of soulful sabotage against the prevailing darkness. Any act of art, including a photograph, can begin as a raised fist against something unthinkable, but the photograph itself can defy the odds in a different way: by being a defiant declaration of joy.
Journalistic images certainly play a key role in combating fear and ignorance, shining a light where some prefer it not be shone. But the very act of art is, itself, a protest….against the view that life is worthless, against the seductive pull of despair. Art is the affirmation of life, the insistence that it continue, even thrive. Like the flower peeping through the wire seen in this image, we aspire…we arc ourselves toward whatever light there is. And so, it’s easy to make a list of pictures that have gone beyond mere reportage to become celebrations of the things in the world that are still elegant, beautiful, and soul-sustaining.
There are days, like those of the present age (and countless ages before this), when it seems that night will never end, and, for those days, art that cries freedom, that re-certifies the best of us, is surely a revolutionary act. It’s more than merely “cheering up”, and it’s certainly not a turning away from “reality”. It is, instead, a refusal to go quietly, an act of resistance that says that hope is not only possible, but the only perpetually blooming human instinct that can bore through the stone of silence, the barriers of hate.
Photographs are part of this refusal to lie down and die, a tool that the artist can use to stoop down into the rubble and resurrect something that will outlast the night. In measuring light inside our magic boxes, we preserve it, sanctify it, and, in so doing, all of us, one image at a time, begin to save the world entire.