Polaroid 600 // Memphis, Tennessee // March 2014
We ate a lot of takeout for dinner growing up, mostly fast food—Captain D’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Krystal. After nearly twenty years as a vegetarian it all seems kind of hilarious, maybe even abusive, constantly jamming these bizarre processed shapes into our bodies. I loved it all at the time, though. My favorite of all of them was Sunday afternoons, when my dad would clamor for his favorite, and we’d get Chinese at the nice Chinese restaurant, the Dragon, over by Century Plaza.
I remember the crunchy noodles the best—that, and the placemats, my sister perpetually beating me in a game of Who Was Born in a Cooler Year because her ‘76 Dragon would always beat my Rabbit, or so we thought in 1985.
I think the Dragon still exists in one form or another, just by a different mall.
Yesterday I went to the store to buy some pistachios and grapes and maybe some gummi worms. At the check-out there was one line with like nobody in it, just an elderly person who looked like they’d already paid, bags already full. I looked over, and the person I thought was checked out was staring intently at the debit card thingy. She anxiously looked at the cashier. “I told you, I don’t know what my PIN number is. I don’t even know WHAT a PIN number even is, in the first place,” she said, pleadingly.
I realized they’d been standing there a while like this, locked in a quiet struggle.
The woman frowned at the machine. The cashier said “we will all just wait a minute. You’ll remember. It’s okay. Nobody’s in a hurry.”
So we all stood there. I tried to make a face that said, I am not in a hurry. I counted my breaths. I tried to pretend it was okay.
Suddenly the lady’s face brightened, and she quickly punched in her code: “I remembered!” The cashier said “of course you did, honey.”
The human body doesn’t always work that great. At the end of the day we’re just a bag of water with a dash of chemicals. A holy bag of water.
April 2014: had my faith in humanity restored by the patience and kindness of a Target cashier
In July of 1954, a person named Dewey Phillips was playing records and broadcasting live on the radio from the Hotel Chisca in downtown Memphis. People were still playing music like they always had, but they’d figured out how to contain the vibrations in the air made when fingers plucked metal strings, wooden sticks hit drum, a larynx warbled. They captured the sounds and carved them into a flat piece of sturdy circular plastic. This was called a record. You could play a record by running a tiny piece of metal over it at a certain speed. When you did that, you could hear the music etched into the record, even if it had been sung five months ago or fifty or a hundred miles away. It was magic.
You could also let other people hear the record if you had the ability to transmit signals. There were machines that could modify electromagnetic waves, the kind that vibrate lower than you can see with your eyes, the kind that maybe people on Mars can see, but not us, not yet. You would play the record on an electrical-type machine that would make the air move in a certain way, and it would spit the shaped air out in a way that other people could listen to it, if they had machines that could taste the spit right. People that played records for other people were called disc jockeys, or DJs. Dewey Phillips was a DJ. He spit music into the night. This was also magic.
That summer night in 1954 the DJ spit a song sung by a nineteen year old. The teenager didn’t write the song. He was from somewhere nobody cared about. He wore shirts that were dyed bright colors and had lace cuffs and liked to put a cosmetic device on his eyelashes called mascara. In another city named the same as the city the teenager lived in, people would mix a powdered copper rock with honey and smear it around their eyes to ward off evil and protect their souls. Maybe the teenager did it for the same reason. This, too, is a type of magic.
People in Memphis who had air-spit machines loved the song the teenager sang. The DJ ended up spitting it fourteen times into the smoldering night. People will go just crazy for a song that they like. It makes them feel good and they want more of it. There is a juice in human bodies called serotonin. It is like a radio that only spits out your favorite songs. Music can induce feelings of euphoria, possibly through triggering higher discharges of serotonin. This is most certainly magic.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, scientists spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get human bodies to make more spit like this, or not to get rid of it as fast if their bodies could actually made it in the first place. The scientists tried to determine how to replicate the spit in the same way that records could play back a song. This was a holy mission in search of the rarest of magics.
The concern some expressed at the time is that there is never enough of this spit. There was only the first time that Dewey Phillips played the record by the teenager; and certainly by the fourteenth time it felt differently. There was only the one time where you kissed your first kiss ever in the back of your best friend’s dad’s Buick. There was only the one time you stood at the wall of the teenager’s house and pressed your hand onto the sharp-edged rock. There was only the one time you held hands in the back of a cab on a January night when it felt like nineteen degrees outside. There was only the one time when you pressed your cheek to the cold brick of the Hotel Chisca, ruined and empty. There was only the one time when you buried your face in your hands on the banks of the Mississippi River. Not all records can be played twice.
That’s all right. That is the magic of life.
Jackson, Mississippi // Polaroid 600 by Impossible Project // Emulsion Lift to Watercolor Paper // November, 2013 // by David McCarty
Jackson, Mississippi // Impossible Project Film for Polaroid 600 // November 2013
This is a Polaroid from HALF HOURS ON EARTH, a photography exhibition hosted by Light + Glass Studio. There will be two dozen of my Polaroids on display and for sale, with work spanning 2007-2014. The gallery is also showing work by Ashley Gates and Roy Adkins.
Half Hours on Earth
February 20, 2014, 7:00 p.m.
Light + Glass Studio
523 Commerce Street
Jackson, Mississippi 39201
Brooklyn, New York // January, 2014 // by David McCarty
My friends The Delicate Cycle have released their debut album, and it features some of my Polaroid portraits. It’s pretty, smart pop that makes me happy to know them.
Somewhere Between Falcon and Darling, Mississippi // Expired Polaroid 600 // November, 2013