Camera + Chaos = Magic
by Jake Block
The attached photograph features our own Devora Zada Moon in Sedona, Arizona back in 1992. It’s a nice, typical photo of a woman standing in front of the beautiful scenery, having her photo taken by her husband while on vacation. Just a normal photo, the likes of which are taken by skilled and amateur photographers thousands of times a day. Except that it ISN’T. Not every photograph… and most probably NO other that day… included what appears to be an other worldly aircraft approaching from behind.
Clearly some kind of aberration, this photograph instantly became an object of wonderment and speculation because whatever caused the aberrant photo on a roll of 35mm film, caused no other aberrations. All of the other photos on the roll were your ordinary, garden variety family vacation shots. Now, I know both Devora and her husband, and while they are intelligent and resourceful people, neither of them has the technical ability to pull off such a trick on film. The shot was a commercially developed and printed “photomat” processing job. What actually caused the aberration is anyone’s guess, but I use it here as an example of the chaos effect in photography, which in itself can technically be a form of mind magic.
Actually, I’m of the belief that pure photography could be seen as a form of chaos magic, because there is always an element of the unknown that can, and often does happen, at the instant your finger touches the “plunger.” Any photographer, pro or rank amateur, has a story of a photo gone unexpectedly well, tragically wrong or just plain weird all by itself.
A lot of arrogant photographers will tell you that they are in charge when they pick up a camera to capture their images on film, or as a digital image. And sure, 99% of their photos (generously) might be “picture perfect” and works of art generated through skillful manipulations of image and light. However, every now and then, for no discernible reason, chaos enters the scene and affects the process in some unpredictable and often magical way. It’s happened to me, and any photographer you would care to name, from Ansel Adams to Annie Leibovitz to Richard Avedon to Robert Frank to Andy Warhol. Chaos doesn’t really care who you are, what camera you choose, or what your subject is. “Chaos Happens.”
The same “X” factor that rolls the dice in chaos magic is precisely the same as the “X” factor that can affect photography, and indeed everything under the sun. Chaos happens without rhyme or reason, and while we might try or write it off as “a trick of light” or an imbalance in the emulsions in film and its processing, or something else, the fact remains that it is nothing less than our inability as humans to know and control everything, no matter how hard we might try.
One evening in 1978-79 in Germany, I was taking a portrait shot of a lovely black woman named Ayetha. She was sitting elegantly in an ornate mahogany colored chair, wearing a red-orange, blouse and short black skirt, with her long legs crossed and dark red spiked heels on her feet. The wall behind her was a burnt orange color and a bouquet of red roses in a milk-white vase rested on a mahogany table to her left. She held a glass of Burgundy wine in her right hand. My diffusing umbrella and reflector cards were positioned and she focused her brown-black eyes intently into the camera, focusing them on the Canon label dead center in front of her, about 6 feet away. I clicked my light meter… everything was perfect. I took the shot.
I sent off the photos to be developed, and days later when they returned to me, I was going over them before presenting them to her. They were all good photos, well balanced, and good representations of my skill. And then my eyes fell on that signature shot and I was shocked to see that those beautiful brown-black eyes, while still beautiful, now stared back at me as medium dark azure blue in color. I blinked and rubbed my eyes, then grabbed my color wheel to confirm the transformation. While still a gorgeous photo of a gorgeous woman, it was definitely nothing I had planned or even had a clue how to do if I had wanted to. Chaos had raised it head in a lovely way.
Chaos can be like that in our lives and in magic, either benignly or with tragic circumstances, turning the best laid plans and most fervently desired intent into something else altogether. So, while Devora and her husband wanted only a memento of their trip to Sedona, they got “Devora vs the Aliens,” which was a delightful surprise to herself and everyone else, and while I shot a photo of a dark-eyed beauty that night in Germany, I got a unique and beautiful surprise for which I took full credit, for just because chaos touched that session, it made it no less valid or real.
Learn to expect chaos and to embrace its influence in our lives, our art and works. It’s going to touch us when we least expect it, and the best we can hope is that it’s touch is warm and pleasant. When it’s cold, it can chill you to the depths of your “soul.”