TOWARD A MESSIER MOI
By MICHAEL PERKINS
I SPENT THE FIRST TEN YEARS OF MY PHOTOGRAPHIC LIFE in a more or less constant state of frustration, given that I had not mastered the mechanical basics of the art, measuring the “success” of my pictures only in that light. The “if only’s” ruled my thoughts; if only I had a better camera; if only I could get more even results; if only I could make my subjects look more “realistic”. Everything in those early years….personal emotion, vision, impact….was subordinated to a worshipful pursuit of technical precision. I shot like I was recording illustrations for a travel brochure.
Miraculously, the digital age has eliminated a lot of the risk that used to confound me and other shooters. In such an era, we, more often than not, get some kind of usable picture, freer than ever before from technical defects. In this way, our cameras protect us from our messier selves. But that, in turn, can lead us to another kind of failure, one in which we neglect the unpredictable but potentially exciting irregularities that stamp our personalities onto our images. In recent years, almost as a kind of correction or recoil, photogs in the Age Of Guaranteed Outcome have sought to retro-fit photographs with the feeling that this is not a perfect process. This shift has been seen in several trends: the re-introduction of lo-fi film cameras, which actively seek the accident or the tech fail; post-processing apps which aim not merely to evoke the look of other eras, but to illustrate that uncertainty and imprecision are key parts of memory; and art glass and instant photography that romanticize the random.
I have come full circle in these times, opting occasionally to overrule reality in pursuit of feeling. The master shot of the above image, taken at some distance, originally smoothed out the rougher textures of the urban rooftops, or at least those that I saw in my mind. The un-retouched “reality” of the subject was too pretty, if you will, straight out of the camera. A quick HDR conversion, however, brought every brick and stone into gritty relief; meaning that I had to deliberately re-flaw the image to make it truer, saying a polite “no thanks” to the “actual” look delivered by my advance device. I needed some wrongness to be put back in the scene to make it right.
When we express ourselves with a minimum of even well-meaning interference between initial vision and final result, we produce a really inconsistent mix of correct and incorrect execution, making our hits nearly as mysterious as our misses. But this personal autographing of our images is important, more so than ever before, especially as we peer into the dark, spooky cave of A.I. and wonder how to keep our work truly ours. One thing is sure; authorship, properly asserted, cannot be counterfeited or aped, and photographs can never merely be about a mixtures of processes. It’s in the sloppy soup of the actual human brain that anything pretending to true “art” resides, and that unique product can never be assimilated or simulated.