INVENTORY OF EFFECTS
By MICHAEL PERKINS
IF IT’S JANUARY (as it is at this writing, the head end of 2023), then it’s time for rifling through endless old image files for two diametrically opposed searches: one for the pictures that I hastily conferred “keeper” status on, and the other for photographs that took a bit of time to win me over. In the case of the former, many a shot that initially seemed to be a hit reveals itself as a mishap of magical thinking, or of me wanting to believe that the pictures were better than they were. This comes from mistaking good intentions for actual achievement. In the latter case, I have done just the opposite, skirting over something that didn’t hit me in the gut at first glance but now strikes me as slightly more than passable. The first search is good for humility. The second is an exercise in joy.
In reviewing the pictures that were once faves but now seem “meh” to me, I find myself searching for answers to the question, “what was I thinking?”, each answer invaluable if I have the guts to face reality. In looking at the re-discovered gems, I struggle to define the common thread that courses through all of anyone’s pictures that really, really connect with me. A few key findings emerge:
First, only a handful of them were taken with amazing, or even decent cameras. Bad tools can make picture-making trickier, but even if you’re holding a non-responsive brick in your hands, love will find a way. Secondly, even when taken on decent equipment, a surprising number of the neo-keepers are quite technically imperfect. In fact, more than a few violate even basic rules of composition, exposure, and so on. Still other newly-adored pix were shots were the product of very fast decisions: that is, if they were planned at all, they are short on reaction time and long on raw instinct. In the case of the image shown above, for example,all three of the things that I have listed as compromising factors are in evidence. The picture was taken during an aggravating day on which one of my oldest DSLRs was actively dying on me, its exhausted shutter freezing on every other frame: it is not particularly sharp, and in fact contains a few radical blowouts (some of whom have been mercifully cropped): and, finally, I had about three seconds from “maybe this would work” to “a passing car has now obliterated half the scene”. I did not literally shoot this from my hip, but I might as well have.
Strangely, the final image appeals to me more than a few others taken before and after it, pictures where the camera was, you know, actually working. I shuffled past it with a grunt upon first viewing, and yet, over a year later, I see something in it that I wish I could do more purposefully at some other time. Maybe our self-grading on the curve is like the charitable comments many a teacher has scrawled on a kid’s mediocre report card: “shows potential”. Some days, viewing one’s work in a certain way, that assessment is even better than getting straight “A”‘s.