the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

Posts tagged “poetry

CHARGING THE BATTERY

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THERE IS NO SINGLE GUARANTEED SPARK for the creative process. As photographers, we move through the world on completely random tracks, and so there can be no set order for the things we will see, what their impact will be upon us, or indeed whether they will register with us at all. The development of a photographic “eye” is uneven and happens in fits and starts, not as a steady uphill climb from ignorance to enlightenment. Understandably, we all have different poets, or guides, that speak to us in this process.

gazebo blend EF

It’s certainly not a stretch to connect Henry David Thoreau with contemplation, as well as the search for  one’s role in the natural world. But maybe you’re not a tree and flower person. Maybe your Thoreau is found in a quiet room, or a back street, or the face of someone you love. The main thing is that, in the act of making images, we all choose influencers, teachers, gurus. Something someone did or said sometime leaves its mark on us. So forgive the decidedly “nature-y” bias of the image seen here, as well as the several sayings by Mr. T. listed below. They work well in tandem for me, but I think they also may remind you of your own personal guidepost, be it person or thing. Something lit the spark in you to make you want to capture light in a box in your very singular. Listen to that voice, and let it both anchor you and set you free.

Semi-photographic philosopher’s stones from the Laureate of Walden:

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.

Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.

There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.

and, finally, one that makes all the difference, whether you are clicking a camera shutter or building a tower:

Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.


A LAND BEYOND THE SCARS

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Flagstaff, Arizona, 2021

By MICHAEL PERKINS

I WAS ABOUT TWELVE THE FIRST TIME I ENCOUNTERED ONE OF THE LITERARY WORLD’S SIMPLEST AND BEST METAPHORS FOR THE PROCESS OF HEALING. However, I didn’t discover it visually, that is, on the printed page. Instead, I felt it in the strange, lonely, tremulous cadences of a lone voice on my teacher’s portable phonograph. She was trying to demonstrate the rhythm of verse, how it counted out its beats and measured its messages, and so she played us a reading of the source material, Grass, as read by its author, Carl Sandburg.

Thrilling to the almost creepy quality of his voice, the way certain words gurgled and shook in his throat, I struggled to hear not how he sounded, but what he was actually saying. Half a century later, I hear that voice when I walk through a field of simple green blades waving in the wind. And now, in a way that was impossible in my youth, I feel the complete truth of those words. They inform my photography as they guide my heart, a heart that needs to believe in healing, in the permanence and dominance of Nature, and Her ability to erase even our most grievous faults…..

  • Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
    Shovel them under and let me work—
                                              I am the grass; I cover all.
    And pile them high at Gettysburg
    And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
    Shovel them under and let me work.
    Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                                              What place is this?
                                              Where are we now?
                                              I am the grass.
                                              Let me work.

The work continues. In our hearts. In our hands.

In our eyes.


WALT-ISM

Fan Dancers, 2020

By MICHAEL PERKINS

TO PERFECT THE PRACTICE OF PHOTOGRAPHY, YOU MUST FIRST ENDEAVOR to perfect yourself. Cameras are merely recording devices, and rather dumb ones at that, without the guidance of the human eye. And keeping that eye, and the spirit that animates it, free of pollution or imperfection, is the work of a lifetime.

Seeing well often entails slowing down the very process of seeing, of letting time refine your way of taking in information. Call it contemplation, call it concentration, but know that making images is chiefly abetted by improving how you perceive the world. How can it be otherwise? At times like this, I head for the pages of Leaves Of Grass, Walt Whitman’s grand map for becoming a human, perhaps the greatest literature ever created in America. He rings inside my head every time I slow myself enough to perceive the world on its terms, rather than on my own. And when his astonishing language and the glory of the world converge, I feel like I have at least a fighting chance to make a picture that I may, in time, cherish.

To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.

Give me, odorous at sunrise, a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed.

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.

Re-examine all that you have been told; dismiss that which insults your soul. 

Armed with such words, or words that likewise define truth for yourself, you find that the pictures come, first in a trickle, then in a floodtide. The world is filled with images that are virtually waiting to jump into your mind and your camera. Open the door and bid them welcome.


EITHER / OR, EITHER WAY

By MICHAEL PERKINS

 

CERTAINLY, PHOTOGRAPHY IS PARTLY ABOUT LIGHT, AND EQUIPMENT, AND TECHNICAL MASTERY. However, after all those means are applied, the only determinant of the ends of all our energies comes from human choices. Arguments within the mind of the photographer about what “belongs” in a picture. How to convince the viewer that it belongs. How to apply all the means to make that information compelling, or universal.

It’s knowing what to say “yes” to, but, just as crucially, it’s about being able to say no to every other option, and being prepared to live with your decision. Of course, deciding what to put in an image is not, literally, a matter of life and death, as a choice of career, mate, or philosophy might be, but it is a very visual demonstration of what choice entails. Because, when you choose something, in a picture or in a life path, you automatically unchoose everything else. There is no way, in art in life in general, to have it all.

But better voices, voices far wiser than mine, have already spoken brilliantly of this process. One, in particular, has been considered by many to be the final word on the subject, so today it serves as my own picture’s caption:

Robert Frost / The Road Not Taken 
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Make good choices. Make your choices.
Take the path. Take the picture. 

 


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.

 

 


REMAINS

 

By MICHAEL PERKINS

BIRTHDAYS. Glibly speaking, ya can’t live without ’em.

Thing is, after a while they don’t come alone. More and more, they show up accompanied by echoes. Ghosts. Remains and remnants. And the guest lists of Things That Were that trundle alongside all those birthdays often focus on buildings, structures that are barometers of where we started out and where we wound up.

The image above was taken within days of this year’s natal anniversary, and put me in mind of one of the most eloquent musings ever on the subject of loss from singersongwriter Judy CollinsLooking at this sad, sagging house, I could clearly hear her singing:

My grandmother’s house is still there, but it isn’t the same

A plain wooden cottage, a patch of brown lawn

And a fence that hangs standing and sighing in the Seattle rain

I drive by with strangers and wish they could see what I see

A tangle of summer birds flying in sunlight

A forest of lilies, an orchard of apricot trees

Secret gardens of the heart

Where the flowers bloom forever

I see you shining through the night

In the ice and snow of winter