Thursday, April 12, 2012

billions of photographs and none of them matter

this morning i asked myself, 'what makes a photograph iconic?' every poet, artist, writer would like to create at least one masterpiece. that's all it takes to put you in the history books and and have texting students pay attention when you go on college tours. sure, i'm driven by the zeitgeist to be productive. no question about that. living in the land of opportunity, i've driven crazy by all the options. be an individual but fit in. could anything be more maddening?

like my comrades all over the earth, i have a digital camera. during the past eight years i've snapped a million photos every twelve months. five hundred galleries, 25,000 pics and not one to sum up the time in which we live. for the past three hours i've been scouring the web. what puts you in the magic gallery of immortals? first of all, damn near ninety-nine point nine famous photographs taken by professionals in the course of their work, the amateur be damned. why is this so unbearably true? 

i can think of a few reasons. one, they tend to be in the right place at the right time due to the demands of the occupation. they may risk their lives and get shot up, actually die, not a chance i'm willing to take. two, they're masters of juxtaposition. love and death, the main topics of it all, get shown side by side. tears and courage both triumph in a collision of the individual and history. look at the most heartbreaking picture ever taken:

though it certainly has to compete with the minamata image of w. eugene smith. 

speaking of  risking everything, smith nearly beaten to death by the polluting company goons after he'd been warned to abandon the project. 

the worst and the best of humanity, the extremes meeting or shown separately, always implied by the great photo. a good example the puddle-jumper of henri cartier-bresson. yes, he might drown. and look at the poster behind him, the dancer in her heavenly world. 

and what's interesting, the most professional of professionals allowed (usually) one such overwhelmingly unforgettable instance, the fraction of a second when the moment meets time and betokens eternity. here's my gallery of the usual suspects.