The lights, the 240-pound camera, the immense sheet of two-foot film, the bulbs and the corpse of an imagined fly called Hercules… they are all relative.
So when that shutter springs (which starts it all) the cannonball of light feels like an explosion, if you could fire light. A massive burst darting between the blinks of an eye. It's an odd sensation to have it (I mean light) move your hair. Or at least that's what it feels like. I imagine that this massive 'picture-flash' that shapes these giant photos could move a housefly's wings if it flew too close to the bulbs. I wonder if it's bright enough to daze them? Could it even confuse those ommatidium fly eyes for just a second while you're crafting this human portrait… maybe even destroy them? Of course, this moment is really less about these gargantuan, instant pictures than reminding myself of a world outside of them. For me, this moment came clear through a reverie about an imagined fly called Hercules.
But getting back to issue at hand, just feeling that burst of light — one so bright it dims the lamps and flickers screens when it fires — is like being propelled into a shower of 'photo' waves. It knocks you into a little Virginia Woolf daydream. Maybe this is what Einstein's 'light-train' must have felt like when he imagined his theories of relativity over a century ago. I guess, like with all perceptions, we don’t really see them until they're on a grand, relative scale, and this giant polaroid is no exception to it. But still, capturing images through a giant 6 inch wide lens as round as a vanity mirror on a 240 pound camera the size of a headless, legless torso — even when it's two feet tall — seems to pale in comparison to Einstein's great theories. But that’s not the point, his way of thinking was. I still think that this fist full of light (some 20,000 watts of it) that pounds and shapes a face, or character, stargazer, or fly-boy or flash-girl (or whatever we want to call our picture worthy personas) onto a massive sheet of film would have intrigued Einstein, perhaps only for the silly fame and folly of it all. After all, he maintained a child-like curiosity till the end. And I still think he would have wondered about it all.
But what remains so intriguing in this all is to see the image or figure that emerges in the polaroid print become more like that fly's corpse (or Hercules that flew too close to the bulbs), all delicate and real, but no longer alive. Truthfully, we only really see what we want to in the images we immortalize — that is, if we like what we see — the gut, the receding hairline, the wide hips or the decorated body. That discarded fly, we called Hercules, is really more akin to this massive, instant picture than we sometimes realize — Edwin H Land's remarkable, but complicated convenience called Polaroid. A moment in time that could be immortalized on sheet of film and then set awash in a chemical bath to reveal a giant, “convenient” picture. And what an oddly enticing aroma of chemicals it leaves while its 'shaking and baking'. When its finished, peeling it apart to reveal an image feels like a fitting photo-origami ending to that fly's corpse sealed in time. And I must confess, it's really quite difficult to take a bad picture at this scale. It's an immensity and gravity that seems so far adrift from the modern sensor — something like the fly's eye — sitting inside every phone, inside every pocket. A camera built from a super mosaic of pixels — thousands of them just like the fly eye — together reading light as close to the human eye as possible. As much as we'd like it to be, it's never really close, just kinda close, or sorta hyper-close, kinda Chuck-Close-like.
All these tools, all these lenses and lights keep evolving in search of that hyper-real ‘blink’. Of course, the surfaces that record them evolve along the way — from film, to sensors, to pigments and the chemicals that bathe them, and of course the convenience. The only thing that’s seldom changed is this need to steal moments of time — to pluck them from thin air and render them worthy of permanence, usually in some attempt at stardom-escape. But is it really such an honour to be the chosen one — the author or subject of it all? Or is it some basic human need to be imperious authors of time, immortalizing our preferred past for a naive future? Or is it a preferred future from a naive past? Who’ll ever know?
Too bad these plucks of time are fleeting. I much prefer to surrender to them, rather then command them, ride along with them, watching them and me change over time… with time. Nothing could feel more permanently impermanent. And so it all goes...
— works and words by michael graf