A GAME OF INCHES
By MICHAEL PERKINS
TO BEGIN WITH, EVER SINCE THE INSTANT I TOOK THIS PICTURE, I have wondered if I had the right to.
The all-invading eye of the camera should be tempered at times by our awareness that it allows us to look in places that perhaps should remain beyond our discovery….that, having seen a thing via these miraculous machines, we cannot ever un-see them. This feeling has accompanied the most recent images I’ve made of my parents, both now in their nineties, both unsteadily Pulling Into The Station, so to speak. Their every day is a high-wire act that vibrates between desire and risk, between the drive to do what they once did so effortlessly and the daunting dilemma posed by trying to do, well, anything. They are playing a reverse game of inches.
I want to stop what time is still left. I want to lean on the camera’s reliable value as a recorder. I want just. one. more. memory. And yet, in chronicling the ever-tougher track of their days, I am aware that no single frame will convey what I’m seeing, or can ever sum up a near century of living, striving, failing, loving, dreaming. And so I keep making pictures, pictures that will always come up short, even as they are increasingly precious.
I can often feel as if I’m violating a trust, making these images.
The one you see here is of a very ordinary thing; my father, at ninety-three, doing his weekly physical therapy session. He needs it to shore up his strength, protect his muscles against atrophy, improve his balance. Beyond that, he needs for his body to have something achievable to reach for, just as his still-acute mind is still stretching to embrace ever-new concepts and projects. His focus in these sessions is determined, but not angry; he knows how much has been taken from him and my mother, but his emphasis is not on regret, but instead on squeezing the juice of opportunity out of every instant of time he has left to him. Me, I have to force myself to photograph this all as dispassionately as I can, since it’s me, not him, that is mad, that indulges in self-pity. But that’s my parents; gaping into the chasm, they are still turning back toward me, the everlasting upstart student, as if to say, watch carefully; this is how it’s done.
This morning, driving around my neighborhood and mentally sketching a layout for this post, I asked Siri to play a song that, for me, has gained additional poignancy over my lifetime, Carly Simon’s “Anticipation”, knowing full well that I would be sobbing by the end of it. Still, in the context of where I and my parents are at the moment, I also knew it would leave me feeling, in some amazing way, grateful for its wisdom:
And tomorrow we might not be togetherI’m no prophet and I don’t know nature’s ways So I’ll try and see into your eyes right now And stay right here ’cause these are the good old days
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