I used to know Duane Michals and meet him for lunch on occasion. He is a world-famous, fine art photographer who also did commercial assignments. He is renowned for hiring models and creating sequences of images that tell stories.

I think we met in the late ’70’s, when I ran the Nikon Photo Gallery, and we were both speakers at some photo event. We would talk about metaphysics, religion, the meaning of life, the Big Bang, whether dreams or waking time was the real reality. I also owned a company acquired in bankruptcy that had published and distributed some of his books.

We had a stimulating, intellectual friendship. I remember he said that only a few extremely rare people made a huge difference over history—leaders like Jesus, Mohammed, Einstein. The rest of us were more analogous to tiny sperms who didn’t reach the egg: we were no longer needed and ended up flushed down the toilet. It was all relative, of course. He wasn’t saying that we ordinary humans should be eliminated or didn’t have some value. It’s just that our contributions paled in comparison to the handful of great changemakers.

In one of Duane’s books called Homage to Cavafy, there is a powerful image of his that has impressed me for decades. I have been thinking about it a lot since my injury this past July.

moment of perfection by Duane Michals

moment of perfection by Duane Michals

The caption Duane wrote under this picture reads, “He was unaware that at the exact moment he removed his undershirt, his body had grown to its perfection. With his next breath, the moment had passed.”

I have always presumed that after that instant of perfection, the body in the picture starts to decay. Just as a flower that has bloomed to its fullest begins to dry, whither and turn brown. The decaying of a human body might last 50 or 80 years until the conscious life is over and we are “dead.” It is a gradual process that we can imagine speeded up by watching flowers or insect lives documented with time-lapse photography. Then come the worms and bacteria to transform the organic residue into dust.

Humans do have second chances. Read the rest of this entry »

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