By MICHAEL PERKINS
IN THE CHRISTMASES OF MY CHILDHOOD, homes were less frequently garnished on their outsides, with most of the houses in my neighborhood sporting little more in the yard than a few slim strings of lights or the occasional lawn Santa. Our current emphasis on LED-coated exteriors and rolling light shows lay far in the future in the Eisenhower era, leaving the family tree to perform most of the heavy lifting as the visual emblem for the holidays. Our own system was simple: string the lights and lay on the ornaments in a fully lit room, with the tree positioned before the house’s biggest window: then, after everyone had scampered out onto the front yard, deputize Dad to douse the house lights and plug in the tree, launching its social debut to street view. That collective moment of “aww” was, for me, worth the entire holiday.
In photographing Christmas as a much older child, while I do admire all the pyrotechnics required to give every house the full Clark Griswold treatment, I tend to make pictures of trees as seen through front windows, framed by shadows, devoid of drama, as quiet as a silent movie, the one centerpiece delivering its visual message in a muted, almost personal tone. It’s the time of year when sentiment and habit are so closely intertwined as to be indistinguishable from each other, and thus there are so many things that we always do because we’ve always done them. One thing I seek in a picture is permanence, the impression that what’s right in that one image is in some way right for all time. That means that, at Christmas, I look for sights that could have sprung from any or all Christmases over the decades. It’s remarkably comforting in a world that has become so comfortable with tumult and noise to deliberately try to show stillness.
This particular window, in central Los Angeles, required a bit of patience. Between trying to nail the correct blend of twilight and dark in the surrounding sky and tracking the occupant’s nightly decision to either draw or open the drapes, I walked by the place for several consecutive nights before I saw what I was after. Upon clicking the shutter, I may or may not have completely reverted to boyhood and uttered an “Awww” aloud, but I certainly said it in my heart, as I tried to in this picture.
Be safe. Be well. Be here next year.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
THE HOLIDAYS PROVIDE A REMARKABLE VARIETY OF VISUAL RESPONSES IN PHOTOGRAPHERS, so subjective are each person’s memories and experiences. This ensures that the subject is well nigh inexhaustible, although I seem to see images falling into one of two broad categories.
One class includes the snapshot-oriented, direct-experience images, which record one’s treasured good times……such as the family tree, the winner of the neighborhood’s exterior lights extravaganza, Bobby’s first moments with his new bike, etc. The other main class seems to center on a kind of abstract interpretation of pattern, color, and shape, and may be more subtle or understated in approach. Of these two basic groupings, one is specific, rooted in personal impressions, while the other is design or concept based. Both produce great photographs, but the aim, for each, is very distinct.
As my own Christmases have become more abbreviated and less populated (family and friends far away), my observance of the holidays is, accordingly, much more muted, less decorous than in years past. The merry little Christmas referred to in the song becomes the dominant theme, and I find my seasonal photos try to say more and more with less and less. The images are simpler, quieter. Whether I have chosen this or it’s chosen me is hard to say for sure. I only know that, as the million elements that define a busy family Christmas fade into memory, I create pictures that suggest the essence, rather than the exhaustive detail, of the holiday’s themes.
Of course, whether this time of year means anything at all to you is a matter of taste, especially as you age up. One of the most interesting places to spend the holidays, for example, is Las Vegas, simply because the town does not sport any decorations of any kind. In deference to many who want to flee rather than celebrate the hustle, the entire city becomes a strange sort of haven, filtering out both the profane and the holy. So, if I snap a picture at Caesar’s Palace on December 25, does that fact alone make the result a “Christmas” photo?
You get the idea: even in less extreme cases, the holidays are in the eye of the beholder. Eventually, what makes a day special is what makes it special for you. Whatever your own circumstances, enjoy the world as you would prefer to compose it. Make the season your personal treasure, whether loud, soft, lush or laid back. No image is a bridge too fa (la la la).