Photo Prose

By Gary Rabenko

Each year sees an exponential decrease in substance and a similar increase in vapidity. Last year, at a huge, beautiful, fancy bar mitzvah, the montage shown in a community fond of montages was nonexistent. Listed on the party planner’s schedule, it had evaporated–into thin air.

I should have predicted this course of events. Over the last two decades and beyond, I had done some impressive montages in this community, as well as some average ones. But at any price, the montage is always spoken of with importance. And for some, “it is the highlight of the whole event”–their words.

Communities are different.

To some, a montage has always been for the kids. It doesn’t matter how basic it is; the kids go crazy, scream, shout, and love it. It’s a way of reliving short- and long-term friendships, new experiences, each summer’s camp, first and subsequent holidays, and wonderful learning experiences that they actually found to be fun. Some parents admit that no one watches them but the kid expects it.

And then to others it is the culminating documentation of this turning point, this milestone in one’s life. To some, the montage should make a statement. To others, it is a statement. Some want to be different–just to be different–and in being different, they often turn out most similar. In the course of one week, I once had three clients promise that the reason they were not using me for their montages was that they wanted something truly unique that had never been seen before. “Just wait till you see it!” And then all three were based on the same premise of the bar mitzvah boy oversleeping, getting delayed at a game, or waking up in a panic over the realization that they were too far away to get to their bar mitzvah in time! All three. Different producers and editors; same product.

The best way to produce a montage has always been the same. With heart and mind working together. Few have an editor’s sense of timing or a filmmaker’s vision. Most think that more special effects are more special. Local video mavens have raved about software that can make awesome montages. When we get down to brass tacks, they admit that they really do not have special skill or talent and the software is doing the job. Or they say the opposite–that choosing the appropriate effect makes all the difference. Well, no and no. Effects do not substitute for emotion; they only distract and kill sensitivity for the subjects and the heartfelt feelings viewers might actually be capable of.

There are half a dozen different types of montages. All can be lumped into two categories: Those that involved meaningful thought and those that did not. Anything worth viewing requires thought, and thought takes time. To reduce time, a slew of software solutions have evolved that do everything for the editor and can seemingly reduce a week’s worth of work down to a few minutes. But the result often is meaningless. The photos are not meaningless, just the presentation is distracting fluff. The same exact photos could be shown in a slideshow. The order of the photos, and the transitions between the photos, can be arbitrary or entirely random, as the software does not make sense of the subject matter or the sound.

So, over the years, the majority of budget-based montages became progressively less meaningful, and the meaningful ones progressively more rare. It was only a matter of time before someone realized this. And from last night’s montage, I think that time has come. This over-the-top “event” bar mitzvah had everything including smoke and mirrors. With half a dozen of the most brilliant of bright massive billboard-sized LCD screens, and a party stretching to 4 a.m., I figured this montage would be something else. And it was.

If my type of meaningful, thought-provoking montage is akin to 17th-century poetry, where each verse had a sound and a specific meaning, very difficult to produce yet worthy of analysis and interpretation, and the other, easily produced, type of montage is like interrupted prose popular in America these last 50 years, which involves free-form sound and broken sentences that conjure up mental images without the pleasure of good grammar or sweet sound, then this montage was like having a folio of loose pages, each containing a single word or a handful of words on a page, randomly ordered and left scattered on the coffee table for interested persons to take note of in passing.

Listed on the party planner’s schedule was an ongoing continuous montage. It was certainly nothing memorable. Not even easy to forget what you never noticed. Basically, amidst the evening of screen paint and computer-generated visual graphics, the screens were also used to display ongoing live video and some of my photographs.

Amidst all this, some of the 500 guests probably noticed older family photos, baby photos, shots by the Kotel, and camp photos. Scattered about. Randomly. Meaninglessly. Not memorable. Hard to notice in the first place. There was no introduction, not a minute’s time spent out of the night’s celebration to sit and watch “the show.” It was like a wall of words, randomly coming and going, dissolving, updating, and moving, and meaningless and memory-less all the same. It was the perfect evolution of the expected-yet-meaningless montages that have been perfunctorily produced by automated software or button-pushing editors who make us watch short and long shows with equal results.

Random words, random thoughts. Random photos. Randomness. Something to think about. Something to forget if one can remember to. v

Gary Rabenko can be reached at Rabenko Photography & Video Artists is located at 1001 Broadway in Woodmere.

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