I blame it on age. The older I get, the more I want to do stuff that I did when I was 10. But it’s not everything, just the stuff I only had a go at. For instance, there was nothing I wanted more in the world than to be a champion at fencing, as I was deeply invested in all the books about samurai and musketeers. The closest I ever got to a sword, however, was a long knife that I had a knack for sharpening.
The other thing I wanted very badly was to master darkroom photography. I tried it for a week when our school placed us in extracurricular activities. It took me two years since that first experience of magic to get my first camera – not the Leica I coveted, but a Smena – an event I suppressed so much that it took the memory of my sister to remind me of it, along with the fact that I was very enthusiastic whenever I had the chance to try the local photoshop, where a distant cousin worked as an assistant. When she defected to Israel with her entire family, my dreams of mastering anything ‘dark printing’ were shattered. I must have suffered a lot, since my conscious mind decided to kill all memory of it.
40 years down the road, I find my fingers dipped and dunked into chemicals and shooting black and white pictures of the katanas that I’ve also acquired. My ninja time may be over, but the silver gelatin time is back with sharp vengeance.
I try not to ask myself what the purpose of all this is, as I tell myself that it’s enough if I do the best I can. But the more I think about it, I can’t help also thinking that doing the best I can is not an operation in vacuum, especially not when I happen to go back to things I had a strong desire for.
It was urgent back then that I mastered the sword and the film. But how does mastery relate to ‘doing the best I can’? What does that mean, anyway?
I’m looking at the cards created by Sergio Toppi, an avid consumer of samurai culture. The Lovers, the Hanged Man, and the Emperor stir excitement in me. How very aptly they represent precisely my situation.
The woman lover’s head is tilted backwards. There’s no end to her passion. But what she has in mind gets hanged. The Emperor, however, is here now, his head part of the sword’s handle, one with it. ‘Not any more,’ he adamantly says. ‘No more hanging. Step up to it, get on with the program, and own your goddamn art.’
That’s right. Doing the best I can is about sovereignty, over and above chance and circumstance.
Just before Christmas I inherited the late fame collector K. Frank Jensen’s old Leica camera. His wife, Witta, had to listen to me going on and on about my childhood fancy, while I visited her. She then said, ‘here you are, Frank’s old camera, do what you have to do.’
‘What?’, I thought, ‘is this for real?’ Of all things… All the years I’ve known Frank, he never mentioned it even once that he did darkroom photography. All we ever talked about was cards. Witta handed over a folder filled with Frank’s achievements in photography. He won many prizes, both in Denmark and aboard, including a prestigious placement in the US. This was between the late 50s and early 60s.
I took all this material, the Leica, lenses, and other film cameras and ecstatically pledged to do the best I can. My mind is filled already with images for an exhibition, part of a theme called, The Danish Testament.
But how will I do the best I can? Ok, the Emperor has spoken, but still… I have to ask, since I’m a philosopher at heart.
As this very question is pressing on my mind, I thought about others with a similar urge to return to the repressed, or to figure out how momentum enters into equation with destination. What happens if you do the best you can in an area that’s left behind by the world? What about the opposite, when you do futuristic things that no one can even imagine exist?
Is this question of momentum, skills, and destination even the right question?
This is a goddamn good question in itself already. What does it even mean to say that ‘I do the best I can?’
As it happens, and because I always offer others what I happen to sit with that is yet of universal concern, the topic for my bi-annual run of tarot prompts is all about this: Do the Best You Can.
Check it out, and experience a series of questions that will unsettle your ghosts or future actions. The cycle starts tomorrow already.
Today I’ve left the darkroom for a stint to get my nose and eyes into dark boxes. What cards will I be using?
I’ve no idea, but the collection is ready, and you’re welcome.