on movement


light machine patternI’ve been thinking about this for a while. Still life vs The Moving Thing. How to capture movement.

This is the pattern from a light machine. I liked not knowing how the picture would turn out when I took it, because of the frenzy of moving light (and also because the viewfinder was in total darkness).

I often think about how I am a shit photographer but like taking photos, and it’s a liberating thing. I can only be pleasantly surprised and if I take enough shots I’m usually guaranteed one or two worthy of the family album. And if that doesn’t work out, it’s not like I’ve wasted any film. I expect nothing of myself, and when I get lots of nothing back I go oh well, that was a good night, even if I don’t recognise the subject matter of any of the photos.

I am particularly bad at lighting and movement. I am particularly good at blurry, grainy compositions (fallback mode is often calling these ‘artistic’ when really they are just a failure to achieve the desired degree of realism through an inability to master the tool/medium).

In a way I am pleased I am a shit photographer, and don’t really have any intention of improving. If I set out to conquer it, it would only give me one more thing to lament (the shortfalls and imperfections of my efforts, for example, the picture in my head never matching up to the final result in front of me, etc).

Take art. When you start out with observational drawing you work on still life. Flowers and bowls of fruit. Tangible, inanimate, not going anywhere. Once you’ve got that down, a few years down the track, you’re set to work on naked humans. They’re frozen into poses but the angles are trickier, more prone to change and inconvenient human interruptions like breath and muscle fatigue.

Beyond that, capturing movement, doing it justice, making it believable, takes practice and patience and a trained eye no one can really teach you at school. Like any kind of artistic act where fidelity to a subject is called for, I suppose.

Take writing. Perhaps you could write about flowers and bowls forever. But even capturing the essence of a cloud, say, could prove difficult, even if you did it every day. No two clouds being the same could test a person’s powers of description. There are only so many times you can say gossamer and cotton wool and feathery. And just when you’ve succeeded in describing its form perfectly, it goes and changes on you.

Yesterday I just recommenced the troublesome (ever in its infancy) second novel after a long time dipping toes in other, shinier ponds. I commit this to writing here – the fact that Frankie has been dusted off and 1098 new words have been added to her – so as to hold myself accountable to myself (me being the only real obstacle in any of this), as witnessed by you, whoever you may be.

So anyway, as I wrote last night, I thought again about how you capture moving things (a mood or a whim, the tail-end of love or a surge of oneness with the world, the changing light in a room, the temperature of bathwater as it cools… and so on) without killing them or just failing them miserably. To catch a butterfly in a net is usually to kill it. To aim wide and miss is to let it go free. Actually I shouldn’t have brought up the butterfly. That just gets messy and leads me into a conversation with myself about art being artifice…….. and I don’t have time to go there, not right now.

You know when you read something, usually by a great writer, and identify wholeheartedly with the brittle thing they’ve managed to capture? To me, that’s the biggest measure of success, being able to do that, and to evoke that response in somebody else. So much writing is turgid and middling and just more paper pumped out into the world. Perhaps that’s why I approach Frankie with such trepidation; maybe that’s why most of my being wants to run for the hills and play spider solitaire and watch back to back episodes of Mad Men.

I’d rather do nothing at all than make lame duck words for the sake of making lame duck words.

light machine 2


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