I love when people say, "You're such a natural." It means that 25 years of hard work has finally paid off. I recently listened to a recording of myself from 12 years ago and I couldn't finish a single song. I didn't even bother to back it up. I listen to my own records more than anyone I know. I love The Law and the Lonesome. The Sea and the Sky. They are beautiful films of great times that I had with some of the world's best musicians. Trust me, I was terrible and I've come a long way. I just wanted it. Maybe I should keep that a secret. But there are not many people willing to put 25 years of their life into being a natural.
These little flat warbly videos I've been making barely convey ideas, much less what I am seeing. They pretend to convey the light of the world, but they do not even convey a white goose in a blue sky. The entire Canadian Rockies becomes a mist in the compression, a trick of gasses where the plastic blue sky meets the dusty dander of a felted city.
Worse, when the camera comes out and the red light flashes, people change. Some lose their ability to speak at all. Others lose a previous talent for silence. Others still begin reaching for their stories in a panic, like employees caught leaning on the water cooler.
Why get nervous when the camera is rolling? When the tape is rolling? You should be relieved that we have stopped actually looking at you.
I pay cash for everything possible. I want to hand this dirty money to the teller and take some dirty money in return. The credit card machine will never smile at me. It will never sigh and roll its eyes at the weather. The machine will never know someone who is going to school in my hometown, will never have hiked the Appalachian Trail or acted in a production of The Cotton Patch Gospels.
I filmed all that Corin Raymond said about Keith Richards today, but I missed the spiritual sunshine on his face. The dream of being as wild and self-assured as that creature made of pure rock 'n' roll. I could have filmed a drunk whore reeling in the middle of a Calgary boulevard, fingering her crotch and bellowing through her rotten teeth at commuters, staggering out into the street like a lost wild animal, but you wouldn't really get the panorama of sadness. The shame that the witnesses took on. I could show you the prairie west of town, but it doesn't look like it's worth $250,000 an acre.
I tried to capture a mountain from the plane. A mountain. With my eyes, I could see that it was immutable as time, an invincible weight. In my screen, I couldn't distinguish it from the clouds around it. In my screen, I didn't feel the breathless surrender of being so small. The joy of being warm, high above this ruthless element. The fear of being lost in this trackless wilderness without a weapon. I turned it off.
There is a sharp, rotten still life beside me on this table in Kim Beggs apartment, a bowl of fruits and vegetables left unloved for a week. There is cold outside these windows that radiates into the warm apartment. There is a patient energy in the tiny old evergreens covering these mountains. There is the unmatched emptiness of the Yukon, more honestly represented by the stark lettering on this page than by any photograph I have seen of the place. And I have seen some doozies. Do some primitive cultures really believe that the camera steals your soul? I think the camera barely gets your likeness, and the soul? There are very few photographers who can do that, masters like Rodney Bursiel. He's a natural.