the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

Posts tagged “Music

OUT ON THE EDGE OF NEXT

“…come on out and make romance”

By MICHAEL PERKINS

PHOTOGRAPHERS KNOW THAT THE NIGHT HOLDS A SPECIAL POTENTIAL FOR ACTION, a condition mysteriously distinct from that of daytime. Yes, we all know that there is, technically, nothing in our after-dark scenes that wasn’t there in the light (isn’t that what we tell anxious kids as we tuck them in?), but all the same, the shadows seem to, in a sense, withhold information, or at least re-shape it somehow. A conversation from the day becomes, in the night, slightly conspiratorial. Colors that register as merely garish in the day can become threatening in the shadows of evening. And photographers aren’t the only artists who sense this transformation. Poets, painters, songwriters….all take careful measure of the two worlds defined by the day/night demarcation, all taking note that light, or its absence, is more than mere atmosphere, but also mood, even intention.

In recent days, as I tumble all this over in my mind, I’ve been reviewing a whole series of night shots that I believe have a particular flavor that they may not have had, were they shot during the day. I’ve also been running a musical playlist of songs that seek to capture this same strange phenomenon. Rock ‘n’ roll, with its special emphasis on the restless and rambling impulses of youth, is strongest when it comes to characterizing that urge to move, to discover, to dare or rebel. You will no doubt have songs that you believe best frame these feelings. Some are simple, others more ornate, but, for my money, none come close to the compact, precise, and emotionally direct language of Van Morrison’s Wild Night. Regard for a moment, if you will, the random carnival shot above, and sink yourself into Morrison’s unique invitation to join the ranks of a special kind of shadowy wanderer:

As you brush your shoes, stand before the mirror
And you comb your hair, grab your coat and hat
And you walk, wet streets tryin’ to remember
All the wild night breezes in your mem’ry ever

And ev’rything looks so complete when you’re walkin’ out on the street
And the wind catches your feet, sends you flyin’, cryin’

Ooo-woo-wee!
Wild night is calling
Oooo-ooo-wee!
Wild night is calling

And all the girls walk by, dressed up for each other
And the boys do the boogie-woogie on the corner of the street
And the people, passin’ by stare in wild wonder
And the inside juke-box roars out just like thunder

And ev’rything looks so complete when you’re walkin’ out on the street
And the wind catches your feet
And sends you flyin’, cryin’

Woo-woo-wee!
Wild night is calling
Ooo-ooo-wee!
Wild night is calling, alright

The wild night is calling
The wild night is calling

Come on out and dance
Whoa, come on out and make romance

c) 1971 WB Music. Corp / Caledonia Soul Music (ASCAP). All rights reserved.

 

Anticipation. Experimentation. Potential. Mystery.

The wild night is calling, and sending images racing into hearts.

And cameras.

Come on out and make romance.

 

 

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HOW TERRIBLY STRANGE…..

By MICHAEL PERKINS

SOME IMAGES REQUIRE NO WORDS. At least that’s the standard we aim for.

Many others may or may not benefit from what I call accompaniment. Sometimes a few words act as a sort of period at the end of a photographic “sentence”. Other times, a pre-existing sentiment….literary, musical, poetic…. seems somehow to have been just waiting for a picture with which to pair up.

I shot this picture of two longtime pals in just a second, but for two weeks after that, my mind kept looping back to 1968, and the words of a then-young songsmith who found it a real mind stretch to picture himself at the opposite end of his life. And, most likely, many other baby-boomers who read those lyrics, from the Simon & Garfunkel Bookends album of fifty years ago, tried to make the same mental leap. In 2018,  those of us lucky enough to have made that journey to “the other side”, living out those dreams of dotage, may be, even now, able to recall that young writer’s words at will:

*****************

Old Friends / old friends / sat on their park bench like bookends

A newspaper blown through the grass falls on the round toes/ of the high shoes

Of the old friends

Old friends / winter companions, the old men

Lost in their overcoats / waiting for the sunset

The sounds of the city sifting through trees settle like dust on the shoulders

Of the old friends

 

Can you imagine usyears from today, sharing a park bench quietly?

How terribly strange to be seventy……

************

(c) 1968 Paul Simon

Here’s to songs that are worth a thousand pictures, and to pictures that try to return the favor….


ANTHROPOGRAPHY

Tuning up: A fiddler runs a few practice riffs before a barn dance in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Tuning up: a fiddler runs a few practice riffs before a barn dance in Flagstaff, Arizona.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

WRITING CLICHE NUMBER 5,218 STATES THAT YOU SHOULD WRITE about what you know. Mine your own experience. Use your memories and dreams as a kickoff point for the Great American Novel, or, at least, the Okay American E-book. But while the “know-it-do-it” school of technique offers writers a pretty sound foundation for scribblers, photographers need to learn how to leave their native nests and fly into unknown country. The best pictures sometimes are where you, comfortably, aren’t.

Caperin' up a storm, by golly.

Caperin’ up a storm, by golly.

Shooting an event or lifestyle that is completely outside yourself confers an instantaneous objectivity of sorts to your pictures, since you don’t have any direct experience with the things you’re trying to capture. You’re forced to pretty much go instinctive, since you can’t draw on your memory banks. This is certainly true of combat photographers or people dropped down into the middle of fresh disasters, but it also works with anything that’s new to you.

Take square-dancing. No, I mean it. You take square-dancing, as in, I’d rather be covered in honey and hornets than try to master something that defines “socially awkward” for yours truly. I can’t deny that, on the few occasions that I’ve observed this ritual up close, it obviously holds infinite enjoyment for anyone who isn’t, well, me. But being me is the essential problem. I not only possess the requisite two left feet, I am lucky, on some occasions to even be ambulatory if the agenda calls for anything but a rote sequence of left-right-left. Again, I concede that square-dancers seem almost superhumanly happy whenever doing their do-si-doing, and all props to them. Personally, however, I can cause a lot less damage and humiliation for all concerned if I bring a camera to the dance instead of a partner.

Shooting something you don’t particularly fancy yourself is actually something of an advantage for a photographer. It allows you to just dissect the activity’s elements, using the storytelling techniques you do know to show how the whole thing works. You’re using the camera to blow apart an engine and see its working parts independently from each other.

In either writing or shooting, clinging to what you know will keep your approach and your outcomes fairly predictable. But when photography meets anthropology, you can inch toward a little personal growth. You may even say “yes” when someone asks you if you care to dance.

Or you could just continue to maintain your death grip on your camera.

Yeah, let’s go with that.


THE ROMANCE OF RUIN

The Honeymoon is, indeed, over.

The honeymoon is, indeed, over.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

I TYPICALLY SHY AWAY FROM USING OR CREATING PHOTOGRAPHS as illustrations of work in another medium. Writers don’t try to caption my images, and I don’t presume, for the most part, to imagine visuals for their works. As both photographer and writer, I am sympathetic to the needs and limits of both graphic and written mediums. And still, there are rare times when a combination of events seem to imply a collaboration of sorts between the two means of storytelling. I made such an attempt a while back in these pages, in the grip of nostalgia for railroads, and so here goes with another similar experiment.

DSC_1568Last week, during a blue mood, I sought out, as I often do, songs by Sinatra, since only Frank does lonely as if he invented the concept, conveying loss with an actor’s gift for universality. I stumbled across a particularly poignant track entitled A Cottage For Sale, which I sometimes can’t listen to, even when I need its quiet, desolate description of a dream gone wrong. So, that song was the first seed in my head.

Seed two came a few days later, when I was shortcutting through one of those strange Phoenix streets where suburban and rural neighborhoods collide with each other, blurring the track of time and making the everyday unreal. I saw the house you see here, a place so soaked in despair that it seemed to cry out for the lyrics of Frank’s song. Again, I’m not trying to provide the illustration for the song, just one man’s variation. So, for what it’s worth:

 

Our little dream castle with every dream gone,                                     
Is lonely and silent, the shades are all drawn,
And my heart is heavy as I gaze upon
A cottage for sale
The lawn we were proud of is waving in hay,
Our beautiful garden has withered away,
Where you planted roses,the weeds seem to say,
“A cottage for sale”.
From every single window, I see your face,
But when I reach a window, there’s empty space.
The key’s in the mail box, the same as before,
But no one is waiting for me any more,
The end of the story is told on the door.
A cottage for sale.  
From A Cottage For Sale, Music by Willard Robison, Lyrics by Larry Conley

 


STRING THEORY

Repose.

Repose. 1/250 sec., f/3.5, ISO 125, 35mm prime lens. 

By MICHAEL PERKINS

CERTAIN INANIMATE OBJECTS INTERACT WITH THE LIVING TO SUCH A LARGE DEGREE, that, to me, they retain a certain store of energy

Just horsehair and wood, but it has an elegance all its own.

Just horsehair and wood, but it has an elegance all its own.

even when standing alone. Things that act in the “co-creation” of events or art somehow radiate the echo of the persons who touched them.

Musical instruments, for my mind’s eye, fairly glow with this force, and, as such, are irresistable as still life subjects, since, literally, there is still life emanating from them.

Staging the object just outside the reach of full light, the picture sort of sculpted itself.

Staging the object just outside the reach of full light helped  the violin sort of sculpt itself. 1/800 sec., f/2.5, ISO 100, 35mm prime lens. 

A while back I learned that my wife had, for years, held onto a violin once used for the instruction of one of her children. I was eager to examine and photograph it, not because it represented any kind of technical challenge, but because there were so many choices of things to look at in its contours and details. There are many “sites” along various parts of a violin where creation surges forth, and I was eager to see what my choices would look like. Also, given the golden color of the wood, I knew that one of our house’s “super windows”, which admit midday light that is soft and diffused, would lend a warmth to the violin that flash or constant lighting could never do.

Everything in the shoot was done with an f/1.8 35mm prime lens, which is fast enough to illuminate details in mixed light and allows for selectively shallow depth of field where I felt it was useful. Therefore I could shoot in full window light, or, as in the image on the left, pull the violin partly into shadow to force attention on select details.

Although in the topmost image I indulged the regular urge to “tell a story” with a few arbitrary

The delight is in the details.

The delight is in the details.

props, I was eventually more satisfied with close-ups around the body of the violin itself, and, in one case, on the bow. Sometimes you get more by going for less.

One thing is certain: some objects can be captured in a single frame, while others kind of tumble over in your mind, inviting you to revisit, re-imagine, or more widely apprehend everything they have to give the camera. In the case of musical instruments, I find myself returning to the scene of the crime again and again.

They are singing their songs to me, and perhaps over time, I quiet my mind enough to hear them.

And perhaps learn them.


WHAT COULD BE

My umpteenth piano picture over a lifetime, but one which at least shows me something I don’t usually see. Available light, straight out of the camera. 1/50 sec., 5/5.6, ISO 100, 18mm.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THERE ARE ALWAYS CONCEPTS THAT YOU FORCE YOURSELF TO RE-VISIT, almost to the point of obsession. We all have subjects that, as photographers, we just can’t stop turning over in our minds. This reluctance to “just move on” may occur with a place, a person’s face, an arrangement of shapes, a select element of light, but, whatever the source, it gnaws at us. We dream of the next chance to go back and tackle it again. We truly believe that the “right” shot is in there somewhere, just as a statue of an elephant is somewhere inside a slab of marble. As the old joke goes, just chip away anything that doesn’t look like an elephant and there you are (That’s either a really stupid joke or amazing profundity. Depending on which day you ask me, I can take either side. Anyway….).

I have at least one restaurant, a small city park, about a dozen still life projects, and one or two human faces that haunt me in this way. In every case, I get stuck on the idea that, with a moment of inspiration, I’m one click away from the ideal I see in my mind. Only, like a desert mirage, the ideal keeps wiggling and warping into something else. Maybe I’ve already made the best version of that picture already. Maybe there really is nothing more to be done.

Arnold Newman’s amazing abstract portrait of a piano, “accompanied” by composer Igor Stravinsky. This is a copyrighted image.

As a lifelong musical tinkerer, I’ve always been interested in pianos both as machines that are crafted to do incredibly complicated things, and as a kind of sculpture, a shaper of space and light. Some photographers have used them as incredibly dynamic design elements to remarkably dramatic effect. Arnold Newman’s classic portrait of composer Igor Stravinsky uses only the lid of a concert grand to flank the maestro, but it’s all the piano he needs to tell the story and it’s a wondrous horizontal use of space. Others have created brilliant images using just portions of the keyboard. Do a search of your own and be amazed at the variety of results.

Me, I’m a “guts” kinda guy. Lifting the lid on my first piano to see what made it tick was one of the most thrilling moments of my childhood, and, now, years later, I see the mechanism inside my own baby grand as a way to reflect, capture and shape light. It’s like having a giant Spirograph or a metallic spider web. Lots of ways this could go. In the above image, morning light gave me a big break, as the golden cast of the good, early stuff blended with ambient tones in the harp strings and the inside of the cabinet. While the light falls off sharply at the margins, it makes much of the mechanism fairly glow, and, while I can’t stop tinkering with my lifelong “piano-as-design-object” quest (at least this side of the grave), I think this is a step in the right direction. Where we’re eventually going, who knows?

As usual, I’m just enjoying the ride.

Thoughts?


BOXFULS OF HISTORY

Once, these objects were among the most important in our daily lives. Seen anew after becoming lost in time, they show a new truth to our eyes. 1/60 sec., f/4.5, ISO 100, 30mm.

 

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THERE ARE DAYS WHEN THERE IS NOTHING TO SHOOT, or so it seems. The “sexy” projects are all out of reach, the cool locales are too far away, or the familiar themes seem exhausted. Indolence makes the camera feels like it weighs thirty pounds, and, in our creative doldrums, just the thought of lifting it into service seems daunting. These dead spots in our vision can come between projects, or reflect our own short-sighted belief that all the great pictures have already been made. Why bother?

“Time is wasting”… but need not be wasted. Find the small stories of lost objects lurking in your junk drawers. 1/30 sec., f/2.8, ISO 200, 7.9mm.

And yet, in most people’s immediate circle of life there are literally boxfuls of history …..the debris of time, the residue of the daily routines we no longer observe. In Raiders Of The Lost Ark, the villain Rene Belloq makes the observation that everything can be an archaeological find:

Look at this pocket watch. It’s worthless. Ten dollars from a vendor in the street. But I take it, I bury it in the sand for a thousand years, and it becomes priceless.

Subjects ripe for still lifes abound in our junk drawers, in the mounds of memorabilia that our loving friends or spouses dreamily wish we would give to the Goodwill. Once ordinary, they have been made into curiosities by having been taken out of the timeline. In many ways, our camera is acting as we did when we first beheld them. And getting to see something familiar in a new way is photography’s greatest gift, a creative muscle we should all be seeking to flex.

Call it “seeing practice.”

Ordinary things are no longer ordinary once they are removed from daily use. Their context is lost and we are free to judge them as we cannot when they are part of the invisible fabric of daily habit. For example, how ordinary are those old piles of 45-rpm records on which we no longer drop a needle? Several revolutions in sound later, they no longer provide the same aural buzz they once did, and yet they still offer something special in the visual sense. The bright colors and bold designs that the record labels used to grab the attention of music-crazed teenagers in the youth-heavy ’60’s are now vanished in a world that first made all “records” into bland silver-colored CDs and then abolished the physical form of the record altogether. They are little billboards for the companies that packaged up our favorite hits; there is no “art” message on most of the sleeves, as there would have been on album covers. They are pure, unsentimental marketing, but the discs they contain are now a chronicle of who we were and what we thought was important, purchases which now, at the remove of half a century, allow us to make a picture, to interpret or re-learn something we once gave no thought to at all.

Old trading cards, obsolete clothing, trinkets, souvenirs, heirlooms….our houses are brimming with things to be looked at with a different eye. There is always a picture to be made somewhere in our lives. And that means that many of the things we thought of as gone are ready to be here, again, now. Present in the moment, as our eyes always need to be.

The idea of “re-purposing” was an everyday feat for photographers 150 years before recycling hit its stride. Everything our natural and mechanical eyes see is fit for a second, or third, or an infinite number of imaginings.

Your crib is bulging with stories.

All the tales need is a teller.

 

Thoughts?