By MICHAEL PERKINS
WE ARE ENTERING THE ANNUAL SEASON OF ENHANCED BELIEF, that sadly brief period during which we temporarily suspend many of our most cynical operating procedures, erring on the side of hope. Religion is most probably the root cause of much of this uptick in outlook, although plenty of us experience additional “buy in” to the world’s best possibilities in ways that transcend creed or calling. Photographers, too, approach the world through slightly rosier glasses, especially as it regards the season’s main repositories of belief, children.
Of course, belief isn’t really a seasonal thing with kids: it’s more like their home territory, their native base of operations. Long after adults learn not to hope for too much, years after we’ve taught ourselves to lower or tamp down our expectations, new generations of kids are factory-preset to imagine what if, and wouldn’t it be cool? Magic isn’t an aberration for a child but a basic law of the universe. If a kid can dream a thing, he or she generally believes that it can, and should, come true. Photographers see this “buy-in” manifest in every child’s game, every cardboard box made into a makeshift rocket ship. And images that capture that wonder are among the most heart-warming of this or any season.
The young man you see here is dead serious about his idea of fun. He made the mask and cuff he’s wearing with his own hands, but that doesn’t render them any less miraculous. Once he’s put them on, he’s ready for reality to be altered into something useful, something fanciful. It doesn’t take much. Mom’s bath towel becomes Superman’s cape: a sock pulled over your hand becomes a sidekick, right down to his button eyes. And, apparently, there’s no disconnect between the space garb on his head and wrist and his regular dinosaur t-shirt. Consistency is for grown-ups, bah humbug.
Pictures like this are a gift because they remind us of having already received a far bigger one; the gloriously indomitable ability of a child to will dreams into life. Mom and Dad may check in and out of the zone of belief, but kids rule the realm.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
OVER THE NEARLY SEVENTY-YEAR HISTORY of the legendary View-Master, showing generations “seven more wonders of the world” with each fresh reel of views, the format has been used to depict everything from targeting exercises for sharpshooters in World War II to detailed cut-aways of the human body for anatomy students. And of course, VM’s two mainstays of popular appeal persist to this day: armchair tours of the globe’s greatest attractions and an endless variety of children’s titles, including scenes from tv shows, movies, and, most prominently, fairy tales.
View-Master’s original headquarters in Portland, Oregon operated mainly to print, duplicate and package the views taken by its roving band of freelance scenic photographers. However, there was one part of the plant that created special, homegrown bits of pure fancy within the factory walls: the company’s legendary “table-top” studios. Here were created wondrous dioramas of everything from Cinderella’s castle to the Emerald City, built to scale and populated by tiny princesses, heroes, animals, and storybook legends. The range of product, from the Grimm Brothers to Disney, was not, as in later years, just frozen animation cels but solid clay art figures, lovingly created by a select staff of model makers and photographed in 3-d Kodachrome images for the children’s division. Later on, corners were cut, budgets were slashed, and View-Master’s worlds of wonder became the stuff of legend, not to mention keen interest among collectors.
Every once in a while, I take a crack at an imaginary scene that the wizards of Portland might have dreamed up, such as the concoction you see here. The stuffed dog and miniature bed had both been purchased to help the sole survivor of a quartet of rabbits get over her grief at being the Last Bunny Standing, but both props had been rejected out of hand. Turns out she rather liked having all the room, grub and water to herself, so she retired her black armband within twenty-four hours without a backward glance.
Walking by the two blacklisted toys each day, I started to imagine the dog as a small child, and wondered what his night-time retiring ritual might be, from the book that eased him off to Dreamland to the socks shed by the side of his bed. Ten minutes of prep and I was ready to shoot my tribute to the days when clay models transported us all from mere reality into View-Master’s exquisite realms of possibility. Days are often arranged in too straight a line. At such times, a slight detour into daydreaming is all you need to render the journey a little more worthwhile.