IN CHARGE OF THE MAGIC
By MICHAEL PERKINS
YOU FEEL IT THE FIRST TIME YOUR GRANDCHILD HAS TO HELP YOU access an app or activate a new toy, that uneasy fear that you are falling behind the latest technological wave….that the bus is leaving the terminal, and you ain’t on it. And of course, you, along with everyone else, tend to interpret such apprehension as a direct by-product of “aging”, but, is it really? Experience would seem to prove that, whatever our stage in life, we are estranged or intimidated by all kinds of processes or inventions; the only real issue is whether we merely use the magic without understanding it (turn the switch on and the gadget just works) or, by our level of engagement, actively pair our own energy with the magic, actively partnering with it.
I believe that’s the reason the technical end of photography has continued to hold its central appeal to me over a lifetime, not only because I apprehend, at least in general, how it works, but also because I see a part for myself in helping make it work. The media analyst Marshall Mcluhan famously said that all media were extensions of the human body. The wheel was an extension of the foot; the loudspeaker was an extension of the ear; and the camera was an extension of the eye. Photography is a mechanical process that is initiated only after an impression or idea is formed in the mind and eye. Its recording capacity is deaf and dumb until a concept propels and shapes it. Its interpretive process is completely non-existent except at the service of the eye’s guidance. Even the most automatic, “intuitive” cameras, such as those in cellphones, can never be set on full “automatic”. The computer has the means to be easily programmed, but the program itself, the code that is written between the shooter’s ears, must be supplied first.
There are many places in which my connection to tech is that of a user only, a relationship in which the magic arrives fully formed and I merely consume it. Snap on a light, open up the water tap. But with a camera in my hand, I am in a collaboration. Neither the tech nor I have the means to reach our ends without the other. That makes the workings of a lens and shutter sacred to me, since they are the pens I write with, the crayons I draw with, the extensions of myself. Nothing is automatic, and nothing is guaranteed, except that I am always in charge of the magic.
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