By MICHAEL PERKINS
WHEN IT COMES TO OUR MOST PERSONAL PHOTOGRAPHS, we often reach an appreciation of them long after they are taken…..that is, after the delicate things we preserved in them have been largely taken away. We become misty-eyed curators of our own lives, remarking about “how young we once looked” or “man, I loved that car”, demonstrating just how delicate an operation it is to seize moments from those we love even as, in real time, we are trying to savor them. Much of the time, pictures are a sorry substitute for actual experience, a kind of take-home consolation prize. Sorry, you don’t get to keep the thing in your life that is real….but here’s a two-dimensional, incomplete souvenir.
My wife Marian has been my most constant muse over the active years of my picture-making, and it’s always a balancing act when I see her doing something that I want desperately to keep. I have to, to a degree, yank myself out of the suddening she is in, the real, beating moment she occupies, and step back into a more objective role, more commentator than witness. I always get to keep some small part of who she was at that instant, but I have to become less real for her while I attempt to steal it away from time. It’s an odd bargain.
I could fill a bookshelf with moments in which, for an instant, I feel like I am seeing her again for the first time, the second the thunderbolt first hit me. In such settings, she is every age of her life, from toddler to elder, in a twinkling. That creates a challenge beyond the reach of any mere technical device, and so, like a squirrel visually drunk at the site of a tree with a thousand acorns lying beneath it, I have to quickly select what I hope is the best acorn within reach, and make good my escape. Portraits of anyone are made of such grab ‘n’ snatch instincts, but when it’s someone you love to your very core, the task is even more daunting.
Sometimes you get a 4 out of 10, or even, very rarely, a 7 or 8. The fact that no one has ever gotten a 10 should never deter you, however. All you need to keep in mind is that a miracle is playing out before you, right this minute, and that trying to grab “a suddening” is a worthy goal.