Thursday, 25 February 2010

Why do people take pictures?

I've been on holiday.  It's been amazing.  There have been adventures across Europe with people of at least 4 nationalities.  I have made a lot of bread and muffins and stew.  There has been history and music and charades and poetry and culture.

The film camera I had been wanting to use to record it all started sulking on day three.  I was sad.  Instead, I fell back on my trusty little digital that I've been using for ages, my iPhone, and a Holga (not developed yet).  I was disappointed not to be able to take some nice black and whites, but there were compensations - like the shot above.  I was pleased with it.  It's not in focus. You can't see anyone's face. Bits are over-exposed.  But I think those are the things that make it more interesting.  You have to work at it.  The colours and the shapes are pretty.  It has movement.  Admittedly, a lot of this was chance and I had to take a few shots to get one I liked.

I guess people take pictures for different reasons.  *I* take pictures for different reasons.  If I'm posting a recipe, I take pictures of the dish for illustration or direction - recording-type purposes.  If I'm taking pictures when I'm out, I want more than just a record of what I saw - unless what I saw was worth it all by itself.  I want a capture of a moment or a place or a time or a mood.  I want thought not just a picture.

This piece of graffiti was on the wall beside one of the gates to the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and was one of my favourites of the whole trip (it means 'Silence! We're asleep!', or thereabouts).  I guess the shot is a record, but I thought it was an interesting enough subject in itself to justify my taking a picture of it.  It really needs some trimming to remove the fence on the right, which is a distraction, but I don't think it really detracts from the interest of the subject. 

The second shot, of a road in Pompeii, is a bridge between 'record' and 'arty', I guess.  It is a record of me being in Pompeii, but I was also trying to find a way of capturing some of the essence of the day - the light, the fact that I was standing on the same road that people had used 2000 years ago before the looming mountain blew her top, the emptiness of the place and the scale of the tragedy.  Taking pictures of every piece of coloured fresco left behind on the walls wouldn't have had any of that.  Besides, most of such things are fenced off and badly lit - photographers taking pictures for postcards can get in closer and light things properly and take far better shots than I can of those things and their work is on the internet.  I could take the picture anyway - when I'm using a digital camera, it's not like taking pictures costs me anything - but what would it achieve?  Would I ever look at it again?  Unlikely.  Would anyone else? Maybe I'd show something particularly exciting to other people, to give them a flavour of what I've seen and pass on my enthusiasm, but they aren't going to want to see 50 shots of bits of ruin.  I'd be bored - why would any of my friends be any different?

Every tourist has a digital camera.  That's a given.  A really hefty proportion of them have digital SLRs.  I'm sure a lot of them do think about what they are pushing the shutter for and why, but the vast majority of pictures I saw being taken weren't ones I would have wanted to see afterwards.  The instinctive 'see something famous or ancient or beautiful; quick push a button and move on' I find faintly offensive - especially when the subject genuinely IS ancient or beautiful.  Where is the reverence?  Where is the appreciation?  In Pompeii especially, you're looking at somewhere thousands of people died.  That's a big deal.  I went to the Musèe D'Orsay while I was in Paris.  It contains some of the greatest masterpieces of European art of the last 200 years.  It's a fantastic experience, even crammed as it was the day I was there.  At every picture, there was a bundle of tourists taking pictures.  Clickclickclick.  WHY?  What purpose does it serve?  How is your little photo, with its bad angle and reflection and other people around you, remotely doing justice to this work?

Don't get a better camera.  Take better pictures.  Ones that make the world more interesting or add something, not ones that reduce it.  Enhance.  Appreciate.  An aim for life...

Friday, 5 February 2010

All the way.

As it left a drear English January, lukewarm tea and kitchen towel sky, the journey went from barely controlled skim along steely French rails to careening skid as frosted ice blue Alps launched it over brand new born Italy glittering in the sunlight of a hundred thousand walnut sized oranges. A swallow dive into the glare in the Bay of Naples, sinking into blue-green with the weight of years of old-new, must float to break an oiled sky punctured by neon jazz and a spatter of dark eyes. The destroyer lady drives out and draws on and the ants of the crumbling palazzos set pyres of yesterdays and graffiti the morning - dawn of the instant and no more tomorrow.