By MICHAEL PERKINS
THERE IS, ALMOST CERTAINLY, A STORY BEHIND THE PHOTOGRAPH BELOW. Unfortunately, I don’t know what it is. And probably never will.
Images often state or at least imply a narrative, allowing the photographer to relate a dimensional story within the confines of a flat, static frame. It’s kind of a miracle when that happens, but there are also those pictures in which, although part of a story has been captured in mid-flight, the whole of the tale will never be revealed. Sometimes it’s because I flat-out don’t possess the skill to tell it properly. Sometimes it’s because, although I set out to tell something in a coherent fashion, I mucked it up in execution. And, in the most interesting/frustrating of cases, it’s because the photo simply contains too little content or context to make a story emerge.
Yet, these are the images that, perversely, I find myself returning to, as if staring at them multiple times will somehow solve the puzzle. It usually doesn’t, but that’s okay, since these “quandary” pictures also become some of my favorites. Maybe it’s because they’re orphans. Maybe I actually like that they defy explanation. It’s like reading Ulysses. I don’t get it, But then again, nobody else does, either.
This particular question mark of a picture was snapped in Boston on a day soaked in enough rain to chase my wife and myself off a local walking tour around the Commons, trading squishy sneakers for butt lumps on a bus that spent 10% of its voyage hipping us to the local scene and 90% gridlocked in Beantown traffic, which is about average, as I understand it. There was, as a consequence, plenty of time to snap things out of the windows, even though the rain played serious hell with both focus and resolution. After a while, however,even the doomed task of trying to shoot anything usable became a kind of pastime all its own, especially after the driver was forced to retrace the same circle of traffic hell for a second or third go-round.
The scene you see here is in front of a historic graveyard right in the heart of the commons, a “who’s who” of honored dead, where, so say the locals, you can sit in a bar drinking a cold Sam Adams, and gaze out the window at (say it with me) a cold Sam Adams. What inspired the ragtag orchestra you see marching in front of the illustrious headstones, sans any insignia, uniforms, or sense of self-preservation is, and will remain, beyond me. What they were marching for, who their intended audience or cause might be….all of it is forever a befuddled “huh?”. Bonus round: what with the light being so meager amidst the downpour, I had dialed down to a pretty slow shutter speed, so even basic sharpness was DOA for this particular frame.
Somehow, however, I love this picture, even more than if it made any actual sense. Unmoored from reality, I can make up a dozen might-be scenarios that explain it, and so it actually has more entertainment value than many of my so-called “successful” photographs. Or maybe I just like sitting in a pew at the Church of Weird every once in a while. And, on particularly dreamy days, I can stare at this band of gypsies and wish I could take up a tuba and head their direction for a bit.
After all, they know where they’re going…
By MICHAEL PERKINS
ANY CAMPAIGN YEAR COMES WITH ITS OWN QUOTIENT OF BAKED-IN CIRCUS FLAVOR. The way nations choose their leaders may be fair, unfair, inefficient, brilliant, or banal, but they never fail to offer up their own brand of home-grown crazy. There is no hat too undignified, no button too provocative, no face-paint too garish. Maybe camp-followers in an election are spiritual cousins of the fanboys who walk the halls of ComicCon, arrayed like Wonder Woman or Wolverine. Whatever the motivation, photographers paying any attention whatsoever in an election year can always find plenty of low-hanging fruit, anywhere voters gather.
The shot at left just had to be snapped, since it speaks to the kind of stuff that passes for entertainment on a day when the outside temperature at a Democratic rally in Arizona tops a balmy 108 and a campaign office built for several dozen volunteers attempts to host a horde of nearly 800. It makes cramming twenty clowns into a Volkswagen look like a card trick. And, apparently, on this particular day, the staff thought the best thing to facilitate the flow of foot traffic was to park a pair of life-size cutouts of JFK and President Obama right at the entrance, where people could slow down even further in search of a souvenir photograph, not by their next choice for Chief Executive, but a living president on his way out and a dead president more than half the crowd only knows through newsreel footage.
Not that anyone was going to get close enough to either Jack or Barry for a memorable snap, as the room was crammed tighter than the cab of the last elevator out of town, so, in the few seconds that I could stand in one place without being nudged inexorably toward the life-saving cartons of bottled water, I decided to pretend that the two prezzes were just as inconvenienced by the crush as the rest of us. Sadly, Jack’s head bent back a bit, revealing more glare than was truly presidential, but at least O seemed to be into the process. Hi, good to see ya….
Sometime politics is a proud procession, and sometimes it’s a clown parade. And yet, somehow, it’s always good for an occasional smile.