By MICHAEL PERKINS
HUMANS EXPERIENCE AMNESIA IN TWO DISTINCT WAYS, both by organic accident, i.e., an affliction or injury that erases the memory, and by a deliberate effort to leave ugly things by the side of the road like a shed skin. It is the second kind with which we are concerned here.
Since early 2021, photographers have leveled their lenses at every aspect of The Great Hibernation, as a world of throngers became, overnight, a planet of cave-dwellers. We shot deserted streets, shuttered businesses, desperate moments in ERs. Now, as we all variously wander out into the sunlight to test our courage in a stab at the “new normal” (a perfect example of willful amnesia), cameras are recording a strange collection of conflicting messages, as both hope and haunting walk our streets hand-in-hand. We are either in the throes of recovery, or a colossal poker bluff with fate, or both, depending on who you ask, and anyone attempting to record what’s happening out there will see manifestations of relief, anxiety, relaxation, and readiness. We are in a unique transition phase, one that could result in both freedom and defeat. And the pictures, as always, will reflect that ambivalence.
As I mentioned in the post previous to this one, I have just spent the 2021 Fourth of July weekend reinserting myself into the flow of life in Los Angeles for the first time in sixteen months. The sensation was both reassuring and tentative. Masks are not everywhere, but they are in greater evidence in a city that was so battle-scarred by the pandemic than in the foolhardy desert domains of Arizona. People are mixing, partying, eating, laughing, even as they walk across worn “six feet” signs that remind them that, just because the big bombs have stopped falling, the war isn’t over. It’s confusing, but in an exhilarating, jump-out-of-the-plane kind of way. We could fall to our death, but, hey, on the other hand, how about that view?
Willful Amnesia is seen in a camera’s quick flashes, alternating with the latent fears that are still very much a part of our daily navigations. The above image seems to be All About The Party, but equally true pictures of the masked and homeless lie just inches away. Pivot to the left, and the energy says resurrection. Pivot to the left, and it’s Anxiety On Parade. Both kinds of photographs are true, at least until we can replace our willful amnesia with the real, healing variety.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
THE GREAT HIBERNATION OF 2020 has done, in the ages of fragmented audiences and unlimited media choices, what prehistoric TV networks used to do all the time…that is, knit the country together with universally shared experiences. Back in the days of three or four channels, we all went through the same big events generally at the same time. Bereft of the time-shifting and endless repeat patterns of our present video age, the narrow range of viewing choices in those days gave people of a certain age a common cultural baseline. We tended to experience one official version of large things, from coronations to assassinations to the first earth orbit to the last episode of The Fugitive (which was watched by 78,000,000 viewers). Now the events that we all experience in real time, together is limited to the Super Bowl and a few nervous election nights. Everything else we view, well, when we choose to view it, if it’s not on a platform that we ignore altogether.
The global virus tragedy has come closer to give us a shared, real-time experience than almost anything else in the lifetime of people under fifty. And yet, through the medium of art and the journeys of our own personal struggles, we are filtering it into our memory in very distinctive ways, taking this titanic problem from the general to the specific. We all begin at the same starting point as the emergency first breaks, and then, we customize the ways we internalize it, with every conceivable form of expression: diaries: drawings: essays: cartoons: memes: movies….
Alone at home, I must comment on the crisis in ways that sustain my own sense of hope. Also in ways that use distance to help me hold onto my reason. Some of that is just my circumstantial lot: I will never be, for example, a photojournalist on the front lines of this battle. I may never even walk the deserted streets that have become the haunting visual signature of the story. Within the confines of my reduced living space, I have little in the way of photographic tools besides my imagination or whatever humor I can muster in the moment. Sometimes, as you see above, I come down on the side of whimsy. Other times things get so heavy I don’t know if I’m capable of making an image that faithfully records that. I guess I’ll find out.
The Great Hibernation has snapped many people of my age back to the memory of other globally shared events from years ago…some tragic and some magic. We are certainly fragmented as compared to those days, but the amazing outpouring of heroism and sacrifice that have marked our reaction to this horror….well, that feels like a bond, anyway. And perhaps the art that we use to chronicle our feelings, even if they are very individual emotions, can occasionally strike a universal chord. It’s worth a try.