By MICHAEL PERKINS
THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET ABOUT BEING A PARENT is that we all come to terms with the fact that, of course, even though you are not supposed to have a favorite child, you often sorta do. Maybe we don’t so much love one above all the others, but just struggle with the messy process of learning to love each child for very specific reasons. You can’t, officially speaking, choose one over all the rest, but you do ( but you don’t).
And, of course, in any field of artistic endeavor, we also parentally favor some of our works over others. Or, to return to my earlier point, we just love some of them differently. As photographers, we make very fast initial groupings of our images, sorting them quickly into grossly over-simplified “worked” and “didn’t work” piles, as if we were even capable of producing either spotless masterpieces or irredeemably flawed failures. Some of the zillions of pictures we generate never break out of these two polarized winner/loser silos, either being blessed with immediate approval or consigned to permanent dismissal. The fact is, our photographs can easily be broken into four, or eight, or dozens of piles that show a nuanced range from miracle to mire….pictures that almost worked “except for” some little something, or snaps that almost completely missed “except for this one part I really like.” We’d like to believe we live in a two-pile world, where even art is subjected to a nice, clean either/or judgement, but the truth is far more tricky than that.
I once categorized this image as a failure. I no longer feel that way. I cannot explain either reaction. I don’t have to.
Often, in reviewing or re-reviewing or re-re-reviewing the orphan images we originally stuck in the reject pile, we are struck by how foolish our original sorting process was. As with the picture you see here, we are struck, with the luxury of a little time distancing, to evaluate the things with fresh eyes. Shots that were utterly without merit may still be, generally speaking, misses rather than hits. But in finding them again after a prolonged absence, we lose some of the concept or animating spirit of the original concept: details of why we did it can fade a bit, and the picture will sometimes stand either straighter or crooked-er when forced to stand on its own. And in the light of this new viewing, some orphans will find a home, with even the still-bad shots imparting more wisdom about ourselves than they might have in the heat of battle.
The lonely part, for an artist, is when you love one of your “children” in a way that you can’t explain and in which the world can’t share. That love must be unconditional and absolute. You made the thing and you must own it, because you can see a little piece of yourself in it. The orphan gets a home because it needs one.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
AS WITH MOST REVOLUTIONS, THE FAIRLY RECENT ROCKET RIDE INTO THE DIGITAL DOMAIN has created a few casualties. There simply is no way to completely transform the very act of photography without also unleashing ripples into how we view and value the images we’ve created. One of the most frequently lamented losses along these lines has to do with holding a “hard copy” picture in your hand, of having a defined physical space in which they can be easily catalogued and viewed by all. In speaking with various people about this, I sense a real emotional disconnect, a pang that can’t be satisfied by knowing that the pictures are “somewhere out there” in cyberspace. We tossed away the old family photo shoe box in all its chaos, but a key human experience was also sacrificed along the way.
One of the consequences of the end of film is the complete banishment of numerical barriers that used to keep our photographic output at a more controllable size. A roll of film held you to 24, maybe 36 exposures. You had to budget your shots. There were no instant do-overs, no chance to shoot bursts of 60 shots of Bobby kicking the soccer ball. Now we have an overabundance of choices in shooting, which, ironically, can be a little intimidating. We can produce so many thousands of pictures in a given year that our senses simply become overwhelmed with the task of sorting, editing, or prioritizing them. Gazillions of photos go into the cloud, many unseen past the first day they are uploaded. Our ability to organize our images in any comprehensible way has not kept pace with the technology used to capture them.
I truly feel that we have to work harder than ever, not on the taking of pictures, which has become nearly intuitive in its technical ease, but on the curating of what we’ve produced. For every five hours we spend shooting, I feel that fully half that time should be spent on the careful review of everything we’ve shot, not merely the quick “like/don’t like” card shuffle many of us perform when zipping through a large batch of captures. And this is not just for we ourselves. Think about it: how can our families and friends think of our photography as a visual legacy in the way we once regarded that shoe box if they have no real appreciation of what all is even in the new, virtual equivalent of that box? If it takes us months after we do a shoot to have even a rough idea of what resulted, we are missing the occasional jewel as well as the instructive power of the many near misses. That’s having an experience without availing yourself of any idea of what it meant, and that is crazy.
There is a reason that McDonald’s only offers Coke in three serving sizes. As consumers, we really crash into paralysis when presented with too many choices. We think we want a selection consisting of, well, everything, but we seldom make use of such overwhelming sensory input. I’m a huge fan of being able to shoot as many images as you need to get what will become your precious few “keepers”. But trying to keep everything without separating the wheat from the chaff isn’t art. It isn’t even collecting.
It’s just hoarding.