On my cell phone is a picture of CL that she took in bed the other morning while I was still sleeping. It’s not a particularly good photo, from a technical standpoint. First, it was taken with a Razr, so we’re talking low-res (640×480), plus I’m looking at it on a teeny tiny screen that I’ll need bifocals to read in another year or so.
It’s blurry, the light is uneven… you get the picture. And yet, it’s one of my favorite pictures ever (not just because it’s CL, though that obviously has a lot to do with it). It perfectly captures so much of her — there’s a relaxed smile on her face (yeah, it’s cropped out, because I don’t want her to kill me; as it is, I might be eating with straws for a week, putting this much of her face on my site), her eyes alight but still enmeshed in morning. The sun rises right through our window (to the left of the picture), and just enough is coming in that there’s a perfect glow to her head and that one shoulder.
And I look at it and realize that this is the kind of photo that you couldn’t take if you tried. Even if you recreated it perfectly (and by “you”, I mean a much better photographer than anyone I know), there would still be that accidental quality missing, some sort of intangible emotional quality.
I’m familiar with this sort of thing, from years and years of recording music. You do a practice take, and you hit something wrong that turns into magic somewhere along the way. Because it was wrong, though, and you were too busy trying to get it right, you don’t remember what you did and can’t reproduce that note or sound. You lay down a guitar solo, hitting the perfect notes with the perfect timing and feel, and one mistake somewhere in the middle forces another take, but you never quite get that magic back, even if you play it note-for-note perfectly.
The best art is emotional, something that strikes a chord deep inside of you — in spite of any reason, it makes you smile or cry or angry or despairing; there’s no logic, no explanation, but no denying that something in you moves when you experience that art.
Those experiences — like the photo of CL — are unique and perfect when they are happy coincidence and unmanufactured.