Sunday, March 8, 2015
'between' this and that
I was vaguely, smugly surprised by his interest, as if I might have had something to do with it: Around the house are what I imagine are thousands of photos I have taken over the years. I never was what you'd call a good photographer, but I enjoyed it and if one out of a hundred photos was good, that was good enough for me. And now my son was taking up the mantle and maybe I was a contributor ... although, who knows, maybe he'll hate it.
Photography, like religion and Facebook, requires the user to place a barrier between him/herself and the subject. Instead of just a mountain range or flower or family get-together or a baseball game, now there is the photographer, the photographed and the implement with which to record ... subject, object, and both the literal and metaphorical lens through which to document.
None of this is a worry at first. There are the mechanics to learn, the tricks of the trade. It takes practice to calibrate and set things up without thinking -- aperture, speed, flash ... hell, even the best way to hold the camera. At first, it's fun and creative and challenging and a statement of intention. But the longer anyone does it and the more they continue to love it -- even if that love seems to morph over time -- still, like religion and Facebook, there is an interloper between photographer and photographed.
And then there's the mystery.
Years ago, a friend of mine, Bob Stern, once set out to set up a web-based photography site manned by him and a couple of other photographers who Bob considered capable of taking the kind of family portraits that 'came alive.' Bob took good photos when he and I worked at the same newspaper, but I was never able to describe or enunciate the qualities that constituted what otherwise might have been a mundane photo ... turning it into something that reached out and reached down inside this viewer.
Bob tried to describe the direction of the photography business he wanted to offer. And I knew what he was talking about -- the mystery part. I knew he could do it. I knew I, except by occasional accident, could not. Somehow, there was a je-ne-sais-quoi about a good photograph. It was more than just a couple after years of marriage, posing for a portrait. Somehow, their lives and affections and being jumped or slithered out of the photo. It wasn't something to put into words -- the words that, like a camera, separate subject and object. But to say it was just artistic bullshit la-la land was also not true.
What is it that transforms the ordinary photo into something strangely and silently touching? I don't know, which is why I call it "magic" or "mystery." Even if I could describe it adequately, I doubt if I would: Magic deserves better than to be described or understood or locked down in some wise or self-serving explanation.
OK, OK -- if you insist: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." But I belong to the crowd that is inching, bit by bit, towards the silence and savor inherent in "magic" or "mystery."
Once, when I was staring at a painting in an art gallery, and as I was busy being consumed by what I saw, a chirpy-flit gallery owner came up from behind me and began to extol and explain what I was looking at. I whirled around to face him. He must have seen the literally-murderous look in my eye, because he backed away and shut up. I was well-and-truly infuriated. "Asshole!" did not begin to describe what I thought of him and his limpid, simpering, artistic views.
Why must anyone -- me included -- insist on encapsulating, controlling, explaining the heartbeat and blood flow of "magic" or "mystery?" It's tawdry as a $5 hooker, a pastime that reflects poorly on the one who analyzes. And yet too, it is common as white bread.
"God" or "friend," say religion and Facebook, as if, by saying it, anyone might honestly grasp the soft and wonderful liveliness -- the mystery and magic -- of God or friend. Religion and Facebook -- two interlopers that, like a camera, blur the magic and yet seem to be requisite steps in coming to terms with the mystery and magic.
For the religiously-inclined, the Facebook addicts, the writers and the serious photographers -- what are things like when anyone sets down the tools used to address the magic? If you put down such cameras, what happens to the photograph? And how much of an interloper is the individual, with or without the camera?
If magic is magic, what is it like to let it be magic?
Does the magic disappear just because I do?
Is it really possible to place something -- anything -- between this and that?