Excerpt from A Photographer's Story by Paul Ickovic
I sit alone in the theater of fate searching for comedy and drama at the same time. Chaplin is the quintessential hero. He makes you feel pathos and laughter simultaneously. I want the viewer to discover. I want to surprise them with my Felliniesque reality. With every turn of the page they should complete the story through their own mythology. The more ambiguous the better. I see life as theater and its people walking on the stage we call reality. They are characters with multi-level forms of expression. Not professional actors but actors in the theater of life. We don’t control much in life. Breathing is involuntary and our emotional vocabulary is just as fugitive and mysterious. No compass is infallible. How else can you explain why two people fall in love. So too with photographs. You fall in love with a setting, a situation, a person. You weave them into the rectangle and hope for the best. It's a matter of being at the critical distance and capturing the accident, as Cartier Bresson called the decisive moment.
The most important equipment for street photography is a comfortable pair of shoes. One needs to walk the gutters as much as the sidewalks in the hunt for that magic to unfold. Sometimes hours and hours are fruitless, other times two or three fish are on the hook in the first hour's walk. Dead ends are routine. Bordellos and palaces, it doesn’t matter. Once you find your subject matter, everything else will take care of itself. You stumble down an alley and out of nowhere a character is waiting; waiting for something to happen— to have their picture taken?
Perhaps. I don’t have time to think. A 500th of a second and it's too late. The moment has vanished, never to return again.
I have been accused of dropping names. I plead guilty. Most of the Masters of silver prints are now dead. I had the good fortune of meeting a few of my heroes. I had to touch them, to see if they were real. They were of course major influences and my only teachers. I have never had formal training; I learned by osmosis. When I idolized these mythical figures, I lived on Mount Olympus. Then they fell off the mountain. They were human with all their frailties, foibles and idiosyncratic behavior of mortals. That gave me courage. To see their work behind the veil. Seeing all the bad photographs they made to mine the one gold nugget. Critical Distance and Decisive Moments were needed for success. It took more than one arrow to hit the bullseye. Many Matterhorns to climb. Infinite patience and more patience after that. Then a high tolerance for failure. One day the arrow hits dead center. That is what you live for; a love affair that doesn’t end. I have to have hope. The fat lady hasn’t sung the last chorus yet.
They say you need three things to achieve success. Self doubt, the motivator to improve, to continue learning, to remain curious. To me that is 90% of the cake mix. The other 10% is self delusion that you have something of value to contribute that deserves a second glance. And third, the courage to pursue one’s vision, regardless of the fashion of the times, the taste of the Emperors and Popes of the Art World. How many times people have told me “get a job, Art is not a job, it’s a hobby.” I disagree vehemently. To judge it as an extravagance is like saying that Moby Dick is a book about whales.
Maybe I will make my second “genius” picture someday soon. Maybe tomorrow. I continue to find clues as to what makes us tick. There are no definitive answers, but as there are as many variations of the clock from the Cuckoo to
Big Ben, I remain curious as if the next page I turn will introduce me to a new alphabet.
The questions remain, and what more can one ask for?