2 Aug 2008

The Shaman


 I was 12 when the Shaman appeared from next door. In his paisley print cravat and Jason King moustache he made me a proposition that would change everything. Following his instructions to the letter we passed into his secret domain, his “darkroom”. Caustic vapours choked the air, igniting my anticipation. Bathed in the sanguine glow of the safe-light he performed his magic. A mist of white light rained onto a pristine sheet of paper. He waved a wand in the path of the rays and with a magician’s sleight of hand, slid the paper into his brew and rocked. In a hushed tone he commanded me to concentrate on the submerged sheet. The paper turned into fog and through the fog emerged a fat suited man in a hard hat - a Ju Ju. Without a second thought I took him up on his invitation to become the sorcerers’ apprentice. Epiphany #1. On my next visit I sat outside the darkroom, waiting for the Shaman to materialise. On a side table lay an album of photographs. I picked it up and idly thumbed through. A carnage of colour fell from the pages. Exotic foliage fused with flesh, Ektachrome blues and emerald greens drowned in pools of crimson. A diamond encrusted dome shimmered like a celestial chandelier. This collection was a memento from his previous incarnation - a police forensics photographer posted in the Caribbean. This was his forbidden book of dark arts. The chandelier was the skull of a car crash victim, studded with a thousand shards of safety glass. He returned these scenes of terror back to the paradise they came from. Ring-flash exposed every detail with the precision of the surgeon’s scalpel. Looking at these images, I was blissfully unaware of their terrible consequence. I saw extraordinary beauty, horror exquisitely abstracted by the photographer’s crop. Epiphany #2: no subject is out of bounds to the photographer. Two years later, looking at Captain Beefheart posed in front of Joshua trees, came a realisation. I’d been following Anton Corbijn’s (http://www.corbijn.co.uk/) travels and now here he was in the Mojave Desert. Epiphany #3: photography could be my passport out.