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.
ALONE AGAIN, NATURALLY
By MICHAEL PERKINS
TAGGING, OR MARKING A BUILDING WITH GRAFFITI, seems to me one of the strangest bids for immortality that an artist can undertake. It’s obviously, on one level, a plea not to be ignored: I was here. But since so much of the information in its various signatures and symbols are rigidly encoded, it’s only a testament to some people for some vague stretch of time. Soon, like the grass reclaims the battlefield, rust and amnesia efface the artist just as surely as if he had never passed this way.
When infrastructures rot and fail, they either collapse in catastrophe (like a fallen bridge) or needless suffering (like a municipal water system), and, as their pieces are hauled away, every cultural element tied up in their daily use, especially signs or writing, are taken away as well, robbing the tagger of his/her shot at immortality. Other times, the rot just stands, useless and unmourned amidst other changes in our daily world, still emblazoned with the phantom scrawlings of earlier poets who now cannot rely on either memory or context to make their work persist in meaning.
The strange legend on this disintegrating trestle bridge in Ventura, California was explained to me by a local as a reference to a heinous crime that occurred in the area. She didn’t seem to recall the precise details nor the time frame, although I assume it does not pre-date the invention of aerosol spray paint. Point is, even though the bridge has the year of its erection, 1909, stamped into it at the back and front, the span’s name, to everyone who passes until it plunges into the river, will be “the ‘Baby Girl’ bridge”. Unfair to the anonymous scribe who sought to freeze a horrific event in time, but eventually a moot point.
I wanted to shoot the bridge because of the textures of its deterioration, but then I realized that, eventually, I was also making what would, eventually, become the lone record of a message that someone, somewhere, thought important enough to stamp onto the trestle’s oxidized remains. Maybe, in some way, I think it’s important as well. Artists hate the idea of other artists dissolving into history. We come into the world by ourselves, and, after mingling with the world, we all end up, as the song goes, alone again. Naturally.
Posted by Michael Perkins | November 13, 2022 | Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: Commentary, history, memory | 1 Comment