Viewing entries tagged
junk

Comment

Eight Hundred and Sixty-Six Words on the Power of the Still Photograph (an apology)

hey_mister
hey_mister

Last month, as a midterm assignment, I gave my advanced photography students an essay assignment; one thousand words on the power of the still photograph. It made me sound important. At first they thought I meant a thousand characters. They're so cute. A thousand words isn't that much, I told them- its a blog post.  Within ten minutes they had me bargained down to 500 words. Okay, fine, I don't mind.  Most were thoughtful, a few actually engaging. One was intentionally contrary to the point of the assignment, a finger in the eye of my grandeur. The last line was " Please don't fail me."

I'm sorry. I did. Fail you I mean. I mean, I failed. This is my apology...

--- --- ---

I've been a photographer longer than I've been anything else in this life, with the exception of a son, and maybe a compulsive eater. Longer than I've been a husband. Longer than I was a Catholic. Or a smoker. Longer than I've been a teacher, a writer, or a computer nerd. Longer than I've been a licensed driver if I stretch the thread really tight.

A long time.

At least since the age of 19, which I reached in 1977, a camera has defined me in some form. But even before that, with my first 'serious' camera, a Mercury Satellite 127 which I still own, I have been a taker of pictures. When I turned pro it was with an Olympus OM-1n. I loved that camera. Everything about it was perfect. It had perfect weight and perfect size. The shutter speed dial was on the lens mount. Everything about it was perfect. After that came an Olympus OM-2n. I loved that camera. It too was perfect. I used those cameras until they were just plain wore out. We were inseparable. It would be odd to see any one of us without the other. Simpatico.

When I close my eyes I can see them, the the dents and dings, the corners worn down to the brass beneath the chrome. If I try really hard, I can feel them.

Still.

Next came a string of Canons, and with them came a slow separation from the truth. None of the Canon's were particularly noteworthy, none possessed any real magic. Each succession only moved to isolate the act of photography further and further from the moment. Automation trumped artistry. Auto focus. Auto bracketing. Motion dampening. Feature creep insured that a three-thousand dollar camera would be obsolete within a year's time. Then digital killed film, like video killed the radio star, and with it the true therapeutic and redemptive powers of picture making began to fade.

And so it goes, until it goes around...

I'm back on the film. Seeking redemption. And a powerful fix. Last week I scored a brick of Tri-X from a guy behind the dry cleaners. Came at a bundle, but that's the price of addiction. The price of truth. For it turns out film is a far more important player in the creative process than I gave it credit for. And here's why- film makes a photographer think. Film makes a photographer work. When you walk out the door with only thirty-six photos in hand, you pay attention. You acknowledge the unyielding physical limit you've placed on your creativity and you work with it. Limits are what make progress possible.

Still.

--- --- ---

It begins with putting the camera up to your eye. Feeling the cool of the metal against the skin. Deep breath in. Looking through the viewfinder. Seeing through the viewfinder. Just you, in charge, a god-like eye; you and whatever you choose to share your consciousness with. Pick a focal point, find the edges of the frame. Stay quiet, stay focused. That satisfying geared resistance of the thumb against the film advance lever. Pushing it slowly but firmly until it can move no more. The tentative but perceptible pressure against the shutter release. Squeeze the trigger, don't force. The quick slap of the mirror, the snap of the shutter. Breathe out.

--- --- ---

The magic lives in the limits. And in the breath. It's in the focus, and in the consciousness. Its where the power hides. In the sensual beauty of the dance.

stop. everything.

rewind.

unload.

reload.

refocus.

--- --- ---

The still image. Still. What else can claim to represent a slice of time. Capture time. Make time stop. Forever. I have a picture of my Dad. He's twenty-four years old.

Still.

--- --- ---

In 1839 Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre finds the method to make Joseph Nicephore Niepce's "retina" images permanent. No one will believe they are real. In 1968 Eddie Adams took a picture of a Vietnamese Chief of Police preparing to execute a vietcong prisoner with a pistol. Everyone knew it was real. Forty-five years later, the boy begs for mercy.

Still.

--- --- ---

Photography is the dictionary for defining a moment. It is the thesaurus of vision. It is bone, and sinew, and flesh. When mine own bone, and sinew, and flesh is nothing more than dusty dust, a small child will race after another, under a scribbled message on a concrete wall.

Hey mister! God loves you.

--- --- ---

still.

Addemdum: I've moved all the old Bodhicyclist posts over to the new SETT server. The blog address is TheBodhicyclist.com  simple. The new blog has a community section where you'll find cool news and noteworthy tidbits...

mark

Comment

2 Comments

PetSmart...

Okay, so yesterday I go in to PetSmart to buy a bag of cat food. No big deal, right? But when I get to the cat food aisle I turn the corner and am immediately stopped by an associate in the middle of training a dog owner. At PetSmart they will train dog owners how to be a dog owner while at the same time convincing them that they're training the dog. Like you have to train a a dog to be a dog.  But anyway the aisles at PetSmart are really long so I couldn't immediately find the food I was looking for.  And every time I moved I either stepped in front of the dog who was assisting in the training of his owner, or was standing between the associate and the owner being trained who were talking to one another from opposite ends of the aisle.

Now normally I wouldn't be put out by any of this but I was sensing this energy from them that was distinctly negative.  I was interfering with the dog owner training and my presence in the cat food aisle was not welcome. I sidled in, mumbling out loud at the inconvenience, barked at the associate when she asked if I needed assistance, stabbed at a bag of food, and took it to the register and checked out, fuming. Now honestly my agitation and confusion might have been compounded by the 5 Hour Energy shot I inexplicably purchased while checking out a few minutes earlier at Wegmans, but bottom line I ended up walking out with the wrong bag of food, and not even just a little wrong, but wrong by a mile. My mind was in a million places, none of them good. It took almost an hour for me to get beyond the whole stupid incident. It really, really got under my skin. But now, in the cool of the evening, things are different, and I'd like to make an apology to those two innocent souls.

I'm sorry I behaved so badly.

I don't know what it is that gets into me. At times I take on such a small-minded, egocentric view of my world. And in that frame of mind  it was easy to understand how these two people at either end of the aisle could create such an unworkable situation. Me- innocent guy trying to locate a simple bag of cat food, them- occupying and dominating an entire aisle of this otherwise sparsely populated store. I know their perspective was much different. Them- having a lovely, fun, and instructive afternoon, me- angry, agitated, and frankly, rude guy acting like someone just parked their car in his living room.

 I completely lost my self to anger. Over cat food.

I don't know where this anger comes from or what purpose it serves. Perhaps it is some sort of alarm, a warning that I'm out of balance, or tired, or hungry. But it seems so deeply rooted, and so quick to show itself. And that's what scares me. The fact that I'm capable of such irrationality. Looking back some hours later I can see that it came in reaction to being - embarrassed- not the word i'm looking for but-  I was caught off guard, I was surprised by walking into the middle of this dog owner training and -panicked. right word. I panicked. I could have so easily said, "I'm sorry, I don't mean to get in your way, but I need to look for cat food. I'll only be a couple minutes, don't let me interfere." But man did I not do that.  Not even close...

Thomas Merton, always helpful in a pinch, says that anger stems from a loss of connectedness, a separation of spirit, which allows for a polarization of humanity. It makes sense when I look at the way in which I wrote the original scenario, with the focus on the "Me / Them" conflict.  And although I will stop short of questioning Merton's insight into humanity, I have to put forth a different postulation of my own. Having had some time to think this through and develop a reasonable rationalization, I'm hoping that it really wasn't anger at all that I felt. I think I was, for lack of a better word, scared. A situation I was not prepared for presented itself and I acted like an animal does when it finds itself cornered and confused. I made myself as threatening as possible.  Yeah- that's the ticket- it was just animal Mark. But although that may be a reasonably argued explanation for my actions, I won't allow it to be an excuse.

Because I'm better than that.

At least that's what I tell myself . And then I keep proving myself wrong.  But I'm beginning to think that therein lies the point. That life gives us unending opportunity to test and retest our beliefs. I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon putting summer to bed- getting outdoor furniture packed into neat arrangements in the garage, getting the lawn mowed one last time, raising the porch swing to its winter position - and throughout it all I kept rewinding that five minutes of my life and doing it over and doing it better.

And eventually I did get it right. And then I put it to bed along with everything else .  It left me with a beautiful little gift to roll around over supper, knowing that I had it within me to do it better next time, and knowing that a next time will come. Because for one thing I still need to return the bag of cat food I did buy and buy the cat food I need. And if I happen upon the associate who was training the dog owner, or the dog owner, I'll have to accept whatever version of the afternoon they remember for good or ill, if they even remember it at all.

And I'll do better this time, and maybe the time after this.

till' next time...

mark

2 Comments

2 Comments

The Junk Drawer

There were several interesting responses to Monday's post regarding fear, enough so that I'm going to continue with that theme for today's entry.  Its a little more more light-hearted and a bit tongue in cheek, but it's from the heart. Okay. A couple days ago a friend and former student (thank you, Sarah) wrote a facebook post expressing her joy at having cleaned out her junk drawer, and it struck me as a powerful metaphor. I too have a junk drawer, both in a literal and figurative definition of the phrase, and usually I wait far too long to clean either of them out. So this past weekend I took a good look at the physical junk drawer, the one in the kitchen, cleaned it real good, and in the process mused over my organizational methodology.

It goes like this...

My junk drawer contains three distinct classifications of items, based loosely on the Stephen Covey important/urgent matrix; "Important / must be dealt with", "Important / too scary to deal with right now", and "Junk i'm not prepared to let go of yet".

Almost everything that goes into the junk drawer enters under a larger umbrella classification; "Please Make It Go Away", and is disseminated from there to its final sub-catagory. One of the more frustrating things for me is my inability to accurately determine at the outset on which pile the object in question will ultimately reside.  The "must be dealt with" pile is usually bills to be paid or statements and business documents in need of filing, and the "junk" is usually bulk mail I've inexplicably kept, broken things, and things I might have a use for someday if I lived a different life from the one I have now. But it's the "too scary to deal with right now" is special, because its contents are always so surprising.

I pay most of my bills online; all my utilities except for electricity, home and auto insurance, credit cards; I either receive electronic reminders and statements, or have scheduled payment arrangements in place. Very little paper in the form of requests for payment ever cross the threshold anymore. Most of my financial transactions are made in the virtual realm, so nothing truly ever comes in or goes out- instead a mutually agreed upon token is sent which acknowledges that a transaction has taken place and all accounts are in agreement. Its clean with no messy details. It just goes away, and and my laptop glows with a happy blue-white light and says "Thank you for your payment." Neither fear nor trepidation ever taint the process.

But the bills that arrive in envelopes are cold, stark reminders of a debt owed- and that scares me. It means writing a check (which means first finding the checkbook) and although it is still allegorical, it represents a harder form of currency that I must physically part with. It means sitting in the harsh light of the kitchen, and having to write out the word "hundred". And it means having that much less hard currency until next payday, which seems perpetually fourteen more days away. "Too scary," it growls. And so it goes away for another day.

But the "scary" pile isn't just about money. That's what makes it so fascinating. Because within it lurks other things like reminders of social contracts not of my own making, or of my own making which I now regret. It contains requests that trigger my chicken-shit gland, which is already hyperactive to begin with. It contains things that challenge my belief system, which is based on the principle that I'm an inferior human being.  Some of the things that go into the "scary" pile are nice things, like letters from former students, requests for speaking engagements, museum 'calls for work'. Sometimes it just seems like too much bear. So in the drawer it goes until i can screw up enough courage to pull the drawer out- all the way out, set it on the kitchen counter, and address my fears with a big glass of wine.

Sadly, the biggest, and most unruly pile is not the "scary" pile but rather the "junk" pile. The "junk" pile is a sad and constant reminder of lost interests, of various successes and failures. Among it we find bills which have been replaced by more recent reminders, calls for work with expired deadlines, broken things for which I have to finally admit I have no real interest in fixing, and things I can't remember why they ever found the drawer in the first place. But it also contains odd reminders of things I've long since accomplished and moved on from, receipts, stubs, souvenirs of happy events long passed.

In addressing the junk drawer the procedure is always the same. I always start with the "must deal with" pile and all its attendant obligation, and usually nothing there ever seems as intimidating as it appeared to be when it first went in. Because, honestly, when you absolutely have to face it, you do. Next is the  "junk" pile, mostly because it requires purging before it can accept more, and also because it's my reward for slogging through the "must deal" pile and addressing the drawer in the first place. Lastly comes the "too scary" pile, to be recycled for another time and glass of wine. But it's always smaller than I thought it would be, and it never recycles more than once. It has to do, i suppose, with the pain/pleasure principle- when the pain of not doing finally supersedes the pain of doing it, the 'it' gets done. Or maybe it's because it is just so horribly embarrassing to have to look at it more than once. With that the cycle is complete, the purged items are tossed, and the drawer returns to its happy home.

From the outside it appears an endlessly amusing exercise, and I only wish it held some kind of grand parable or lesson to be learned- like "face your fears" or "take care of things now"- but honestly I only come away with a clearer understanding of my quirks. Plus, it kind of works. Mostly. For better or worse it has been my way for well over twenty-five years. It has gone from action to habit to trusted old friend and at this point I see no urgent need to abandon it for something different.

I only wish I could remember how to order more checks...

namaste-

mark

 

2 Comments