Cracked!

During one period of my photographic
career, I found myself photographing cracks in things. . . sidewalks,
drift logs, rocks, walls. Once you start looking for them, of course,
you see cracks everywhere. We take them for granted to the point we
hardly pay attention, unless they’re cracks of some obvious
significance, like noticing that one has suddenly appeared in the
ceiling or wall of our home.
After photographing cracks for a spell,
I began to contemplate the interesting significance of these forms.
Cracks, or fractures, occur when stress on an object
reaches a point where forces holding it together are less than the
forces pulling it apart. They follow lines of maximum
stress, and/or areas of minimum strength in the material being
stressed. That being the case, the shape of a fracture can tell you
both something about the material and something about the way it was
stressed. Certain materials, for example the glass in your automobile
windshield, are designed with internal stresses or weaknesses that
will cause them to fracture in a particular way. Typically an
automobile windshield will practically explode into tiny fragments
when struck. It’s designed not to break into large shards that might
cause serious injury to someone riding in a car when a collision
occurs.
Some materials can actually be
identified by noting how they fracture. For example, the volcanic
glass called obsidian exhibits conchoidal fracture, which is smoothly
cupped, like the inside surface of a cockle shell. Some forms of
quartz fracture this way also, and can be chipped (selectively
stressed) into arrowheads, and more recently, extremely sharp
surgical tools.
Perhaps one of the most interesting
aspects of the phenomenon of cracking or fracture is that it’s not a
phenomenon restricted only to solid physical materials. Fracture
can occur in the atmosphere, in the form of lightning. This is an
instance when electrical stresses build to a point where the atoms
in the air are torn apart into free protons and free electrons, a
physical state known as plasma. Once this fracture has occurred, it
becomes electrically conductive, allowing the passage of a flood of
charge which we see as an instantly brilliant channel of light, and hope we’re not
too close. A crack of thunder occurs due to the sudden expansion
accompanying the heat of the stroke. It’s a
literal explosion.

Perhaps I was drawn to cracking in
physical media, most significantly, because of its metaphorical relationship to cracking
in humans and society. We speak of people cracking, or being
cracked. This is simply a state when an individual becomes stressed
to the degree that something in the psyche gives way so that normal
social function is no longer possible. The very same thing occurs
when a whole society is placed under stress. At some point the stress
creates a fracture that manifests in the form of demonstrations, riots, outright mayhem, or destructive wars.

Comparing societal fracture to physical
fracture can present clues as to the origin of the former. If
fractures are a manifestation of stresses acting on a material, and
weaknesses within, it’s obvious to ask, what are the stresses on
society or an individual, and what are the weaknesses within, leading
to crackups of various sorts, or even large scale war.
We’re living in a period of history
when these are important questions to ask. Cracks are starting to
appear in the social fabric and we should be asking how they might be
leading to large-scale fractures. . . that can’t be glued back
together like broken pottery. It’s easy to remain unconscious of
stresses and small crackups until it’s too late to do something about
them. Such manifestations of social stress as mass murder in a school
or movie theater are frequently written off as “random,” events, when, in actuality they are symptoms of social stresses
getting out of hand and weaknesses being ignored. The solution is to
address those and not to focus on simplistic fixes such as more guns OR gun
control, or ineffective security measures in schools, theaters. . . and
airports. (I DO advocate prudent gun control measures, but do not
believe they are the ultimate solution to violence stemming from
societal stresses to which we currently seem oblivious.) All too
often these sorts of “solutions” end up exacerbating the stresses
that lead to a “crackup” in the first place. They serve mainly as a
means of distracting us from the real work of initiating social changes that could alleviate the stress associated with poverty, abuse, and other social ills. You might say they are equivalent to smearing plaster over a crack in the wall, when the
source of stress is a decaying foundation beneath the house.
Kevin Jones