Peter Helms Feresten
June's Lounge, W. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth, TX, 1976
For most of my grown-up life, I have systematically invaded the privacy of others behind the pretense of conducting social-scientific photographic investigations. In reality, I am simply fascinated by the ritual activities of more-or-less organized humans. . . and, of course, with the way photographs can express my understanding of what I might witness in the course of such pokings about.
The ideological babble of the investigator includes several references to the establishment of “context”. Dedications to the search for context has led me to some extremes of methodology. My efforts must now include the physical exertions required to transport and set up elaborate sound recording facilities in the humblest of venues, and to rely on the painstaking scrutiny of large, wooden cameras with ancient (affordable) wide angle lenses. The ritual nature of such compulsive behavior can serve to induce in myself the very psychological effects (hopefully transcendent) which I expect are the goals of my subcultural quarry.
Insomnia and compulsive work habits bring me early to the places where events are about to unfold. The actual ceremony may fail to occur at all. I could find myself alone for extended periods, surrounded by what I had expected to serve only as background to the ceremony into which I had hoped to peer. Such circumstances provide opportunities to quietly observe the character of the very place, itself. For just such occasions, I usually stash a 5 x 7 camera in the trunk. Isolated, under the focusing cloth, I try to find order within the space of the ground glass. Unpopulated images produced in this pleasant, unhurried manner, are observed later as large, wet negatives in another ritual environment, my darkroom. They likely to more clearly express what I sought than the other images made that day. The others, made with a hand camera and flash, may contain more information; participants, action, and artifacts, including the very same space as background. Regardless, photographs of the place alone often speak more eloquently to issues of ceremony, and even of spirituality. It is as though the events which, for decades, have taken place within a room have invested its walls and air with the essence of their meaning.
I often muse that my real motive for making such pictures is to create for myself a sympathetic, ideal environment, made of pictures, in which to live. This is not a place in the objective world of the social scientist, but in a selective, subjective world of my own choosing.
Making these photographs provides me an alternative to the soulless sterility of modern life. Such old and well-used rooms, encrusted with the patina of handprints and dreams, offer dark corners in which to crouch and wonder. In them, other lost souls, like me, seek God, consider their fate, bury their dead, have a good time, or just try to forget. I worry that such places are rapidly disappearing. Their replacements are just slightly too well lit, with corners that meet a bit too exactly to yield a hiding place. We have not looked hard enough at modern, commercial architecture as a contributor to the loss of humanity in contemporary America. The backdrops we provide for the drama or our lives’ daily events ultimately feed back to us the character we have cared to invest in them.
As a civilization, we disregard this loss of character at our great peril. For myself, I don’t really worry. After all, I have my pictures to live in. I trust in one basic truth; that the bastards’ll clean it up if ya let em. But even if the bean counters and fast talkers chrome the whole damn, round world, I’ll still have a hiding place where I can hear humans breathing and smell their sweat.