Back when I was young and idiotic, I, like many kids, defined myself as much by my aggressive dislikes as by my preferences. It seemed important to announce not merely that I loved the Replacements, but that I also hated the Who (whom I didn’t even hate). Dismissal was so easy, so satisfying, especially compared to defending what you love. When you are in the grip of the uncertainty and self-doubt of defining who you are, attack can be an easy escape—and hard to abandon.
I think that if this discovery holds up, it will go down as one of the greatest in the history of science. It teaches us humans that we need to think big, because we are the masters of underestimation. Again and again we have underestimated not only the size of our cosmos, discovering that everything we thought existed was merely a small part of a much grander structure (a planet, a solar system, a galaxy, a universe, and maybe even a multiverse), but we have also repeatedly underestimated the power of our human minds to understand our cosmos. By discovering hidden mathematical patterns and regularities in nature that we call equations of physics, we have gotten progressively better at predicting things — from tomorrow’s weather to tomorrow’s technology. The planet Neptune, the radio wave and the Higgs boson were all predicted mathematically before they were observed. Our most audacious prediction ever is the theory of cosmological inflation, which extrapolates known physics to energies a trillion times higher than those of the Large Hadron Collider.
I’m not saying Lee’s the future. I don’t play those odds. Sci-fi writers don’t play those odds. The future is an unknowable distraction from the present. The question of time gets confusing for photography because it is so central to its ontology. So one must be forgiving of the many that are in a tizzy over what comes next. Amongst the arts, Photography is a pup, less than two centuries compared to the others’ millennia. The current crisis is nothing more than growing pains, but too many are worried about the crib-death of photography. And many of the attempts to Frankenstein-up the medium are light on the electricity and heavy on the formaldehyde: redoes of Sander without the wit, Rejlander without the finely calibrated melodrama, Bayard without the punchline, Hoch without the rigor, Rusha without the generosity, and so many of these sub-Bournes turning every gallery into wunderkammers. We are still learning to deal with photo-graphs that are older than grandma, never mind those that were made last week. We are still teaching ourselves how to look at photos and figuring out why we look. Currently, the best answers are provisional. Those reaching for the stone tablets are the ones making the most dubious pronouncements.
“It was extremely special,” says McChesney of the specifıc moment in which she and McGinley were young. They came of age just before the proliferation of blogs and social media, with a kind of innocence made obvious only in retrospect. “We had the last gift of being free,” she says, “of knowing, ‘I’m going to go out and have fun and see my friends show their work and play in bands, and it’s just going to be our moment, and it’s not going to be shared.’ ”
When I put this to McGinley a few days later, he agrees, but he’s nostalgic for more than just the intimacy of an unpublicized good time. For a portrait photographer, a subject’s spontaneity and lack of self-consciousness are requisite but increasingly elusive qualities. “People didn’t know their camera faces,” he remembers. “I don’t think I could have done what I did if I was a photographer starting out today.”
He’s careful of not coming across as too sentimental, though. “I really don’t like when people say, ‘New York is boring now. New York isn’t like it used to be.’ I hate that. It’s one of my pet peeves. No, motherfucker, you’re boring! You’re not like you used to be.”