By MICHAEL PERKINS
The world is too much with us. —Shakespeare
NO OFFENSE TO THE BARD, but, as a photographer, I find that the world, far from being “too much with us”, is perpetually dissolving, slipping away, fading into memory. That very impermanence is, of course, also one of the things that makes photographs precious, in that we are constantly documenting places that will eventually rot, burn, or fall down. And now, from the ever-loftier perch of my dotage, I can call up fat catalogues of the sites of many crucial aspects of my life, from schools to workplaces and beyond, that simply are no longer in the physical world. This change is both expected and shocking. We reluctantly accept that the old tower where you were an eager office boy must fall to the wreaking ball, but when even Notre Dame catches on fire, you realize that reality itself is standing on a banana peel.
One day’s reality is the next day’s “where did it all go?”
In these columns, we often lament not merely the pictures that were made “wrong”, but, more importantly, the ones that were never made at all. Even with the crushing daily input of millions of images made possible by the digital revolution, we still miss shots, and, with them, the chance to preserve memory. With thousands of clicks in our shutter counts, we still finish every day slapping ourselves for the one thing we meant to snap but didn’t. This is made trickier by the fact that we lull ourselves into believing that all the things we’ve always been around will, you you know, always be around.
Which all goes back to the master maxim: Shoot It Now.
Many of us have places that shaped us in some way that we’d love to tour just once more before they are condemned or collapsed into ash. Sometimes we make the pilgrimage; sometimes we are too late. Often, sadly, a thing is gone long before our artist’s eye will have formed a fitting way to pay homage to it. The business of photography is thus a high-wire act between salvage and loss, a yin/yang struggle that can never be resolved. Our art represents both our gratitude at saving some things and our regret at not being able to save it all.
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