Tuesday, September 7, 2010
"Time it was and what a time it was, I have a photograph..."
I got a new camera yesterday. Or, more precisely, I got an old camera yesterday. It's a 1969 Pentax with a built in light meter and flash attachment. It's a beauty and it weighs about a pound and a half. It's also in mint condition.
Now, I don't know anything about cameras. And when I say 'anything,' I mean that. I literally know nothing whatsoever about cameras except you point it at something and shoot and a bit later there's an image of that. That's rather strange because I'm an image kinda guy. I have a near photographic memory of images and still-life mental pictures I've seen throughout my life. It's come in handy as a writer. Also, like Truman Copote allegedly had, I have a near perfect recall of conversations that happened years ago. That's also come in handy.
But having said all that, I have never been particularly interested in cameras and photography. One of the reasons for that is my color blindness, I think. My mom claimed when I was in the first grade she got a call from my teacher to come see her. She did and my teacher (Mrs. McCrae, as I recall) showed her a bunch of pictures I'd drawn in class. The trees were all colored brown, the sky was purple, the sun orange. In all of them. So it was clear I wasn't dabbling in impressionism at the age of six. I just didn't see colors like other people saw them.
Even now when driving at night, I can't tell the difference between orange lights and yellow lights. I run a lot of traffic lights, bless my heart.
So I think that has something to do with my lack of interest in art and painting and photography.
But now I have this cool, new camera. I contacted my buddy, Jay Karr, who's a professional photographer on the East Coast and told him all about it. Described it, read some of the instruction booklet to him, etc. Jay knows cameras. He told me it's a professional level camera, widely used by serious camera folk in the sixties and seventies. It's a very good camera, in other words. I also went online and looked it up. It's an expensive camera, too, apparently.
Now, although I've never been drawn to photography in a general way, I've always been fascinated by black and white work. Again, this is undoubtedly due to the color blindness.
The IDEA of photography has always interested me, however. The idea of catching a moment in time, forever frozen, there to scrutinize and pour over. For example, and this is not exactly photography, but you catch my drift, the Zapruder film has always fascinated me. Catching the exact moment of assassination. That snippet of film is forever stamped on my brain. A careless piece of film that forever changed the world.
Other shots, still shots, come to mind. An old black and white picture of me in repose during a lapse in rehearsal of a play I did thirty years ago. Looking down and deep in thought. It is a perfect example of the struggle I put myself through whenever I'm trying to find a new person to be for a little while on stage. Rehearsals are never fun for me. They're more like the pain of Lon Cheney turning into the werewolf. It's always a worrisome transformation. That old photo captures that metamorphic experience perfectly. There's another of my mother sitting on the front stoop of my childhood home, dressed in a fancy dress and pearls, sitting pristinely beside a bunch of ragamuffin neighborhood kids. It's black and white, of course, and it takes me instantly back to 1973. Another is a picture of me on the deck of my family's houseboat on the The Lake of the Ozarks around 1978. I'm reading For Whom the Bell Tolls and someone has caught my attention and I am looking up at the camera in disgust. I was always in a state of disgust during those times because something, even then, was aware that there was something terribly wrong with spending every single weekend on the lake blind drunk. I was too young to drink so I would always stock up on books and read through the weekend while I watched the adults drink to the point of coma. All of that is written on my face in that candid photo.
So here's what I want to do: I want to take candid, extreme close-up, black and white shots of actors that I work with over the next couple of years or so. I want to use my ability of conversational recall and transcribe our conversation on the day the shot is taken. Even if the conversation is innocuous. The picture on one page, the conversation on the other. Essentially, an attempt to take the viewer back to that exact moment in time not only with an image but also in dialogue. I don't want to publish the book. I just want it for my own personal edification. I've worked with thousands of actors over the years, some of them a cross section of the most interesting people I've ever met. To preserve that moment forever seems to me a noble use for my new, professional, high-quality, Pentax, 1969 camera.
I with I had had it for Praying Small. But I'll start with the very next production I do. I think it might be a really compelling, original thing to do although I feel certain it's probably been done before. But not with me and not with this camera and not with these people.
I'll let you know in a few years how it all worked out.
See you tomorrow.