Connected Time: A Photographer’s Plight

Of a Feather “Joiner”

Twinkling of an eye. Split second. On the spot. Hair Trigger. In a flash. Instants matter. Our first steps. Our first birthday. Our first love. The first time I saw him at the bottom of the escalator. That first smile where his dimples revealed themselves. That was the instant I knew I would never forget — never could forget. Instants matter.

So does the string of instants that become a life. That smile. His smile. The one that stole my heart countless times through the years. It is imprinted in my brain. The contours of his face memorized. I don’t see him as he was then — when we first met. He is not the same. I am not the same. I don’t see him as he is now. I see all the moments in between — slices of time montaged into a form that is beyond the boundaries of three dimensions. It is imbued with a past, present and future, simultaneously illusive and tangible, sensuously charged with all that is him. His smell. His laugh. The way he tastes. The way he feels.

I understand well the photographer’s plight. My love of photography came later, after years of instants had been banked in the narrative that is my life in those years before I carried a camera. The photographer in me hungrily grasps at these instants more overtly now, to hold the photograph in my hand and arouse all the other sensations surrounding it. To hold time. Henri Cartier Bresson called it the decisive moment. Sam Abell cajoled the moment to stay. Moments matter.

The polarity of the instant and the infinite and the paradox of holding both synchronously.

I think of all of this as I board the train at the Getty. I am here to celebrate the birthday of my dear friend Larry, the anniversary of our first meeting, and the birthday of David Hockney — coincidentally the same year as Larry. Memorable moments that strung together are the framework of our friendship — a friendship founded in a photographic instant.

I slip my hand through his arm and we walk towards the gallery chattering like two schoolgirls about lives filled with moments more cherished as we know there are fewer in front of us than we have left behind. He is a charmer. I suspect always has been; first capturing my mother’s heart and then mine. We are the minority, my mother and me, for through the year I have come to know that loving Larry is a treasure cherished by many. He is also a wealth of knowledge having lived a photographic life filled with kodachrome colored stories — vibrant and timeless.

We enter the gallery and I am immediately struck by the precision of Hockney’s first foray into the process he would later define as “joiners”… the polaroids. It is a coincidence (or perhaps not) that I have recently been transfixed by instant cameras having just acquired the Leica Sofort. It is an interesting juxtaposition — what I have read and come to understand about Hockney’s joiners — and my newly developed interest in the temporal nature of instant cameras. My fascination sprang from a desire to share the fleeting nature of the instant. See it. Snap it. Share it. The gift of an instant, instantaneously gifted. No record. No digital footprint. Just the moment captured and shared. Mr. Hockney chose, instead, to look at the overall narrative then break it down into minute details. Later, the concrete nature of his initial polaroid joiners would evolve into more abstract representations that transcended time and dimension. This brings me to Pearblossom Hwy.

Hockney’s Pearblossom Highway

It is a commanding piece made of 750 color film photographs of a road in the Antelope Valley of California — noteworthy for its beauty and special because it is where Ann and I have just traveled on a recent roadtrip up the Eastern Sierras. At nearly 6 feet high and 9 feel long Pearblossom Hwy. fills a wall in this small gallery at the Getty and, more notably, it takes my breath away. The individual pictures meeting and overlapping with different white balance and that unique vignetting that comes from film. It is masterful. The perspective is unusual- slightly off the road- not conventionally reflective of a leading line, the focal points and scale shifting. The rich and variegated colors contribute to the perception of a desert patchwork. I am inspired. I want to join the world of “joiners” and I decide, on this captivating spot — in front of this enormous piece, to set about making my own.

Thirty one years have passed since Mr. Hockney finished Pearblossom Hwy. Much has been written of the process of making a joiner and so I leave that to the teachers and technicians of the internet. Here, I share the one I am attempting, finessing, organizing.

The irony of this is that I don’t think Mr. Hockney loved photography. Joiners was a solution for photography’s limitations and what he referred to as its “one- eyed” approach. He believed photographs were limited to brief views before concentration would inevitably fade and interest lost. Joiners were a way of extending the life of the photograph; separating instants and then aggregating them into a colossal narrative that captured, and most importantly held, the viewer’s eye and transcended the instant of the shutter closing. He felt they were closer to how we as humans experience our truth.

I do love photography — every instant of it — from the impermanent instant photo to the discolored film photograph to the infinite digital photograph. I enjoy a lazy afternoon of sitting with a box of family memories, faded and stained, to my most recent digital exploration of the coves and points of the Baja Peninsula. I believe in the instants — mindful presence, capturing the moment, forcing your mind to fill in the sensory blanks. And I love a narrative of purpose and meaning filled lovingly with snapshots of time strung together. To truly experience life, I think you must travel the distance from the instant to the infinite, connecting time, recording it, puzzling it together into a massive joiner of one’s own.

Learn more: https://www.paradoxpolarity.com/paradox-polarity/

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