Friday, 17 February 2012

On Reflection...

Hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, they danced

I've been thinking about photographs.
I don't know about you, but I take an awful lot of them.
I think, by and large, everyone does.
Do you remember back in the day when it was an international 'joke' that the Japanese didn't sight-see, they just took photos? Now we all do it.

A few years ago I was honoured to be invited to an event at which the Queen was present, and as she walked past us all, it was like Guy Fawkes - flash, flash, flash, flash, flash. I don't think anyone present actually saw her, they were too busy either looking into a mobile phone or camera lens. And I remember wondering at the time what she was thinking. Everywhere she goes she is confronted, not by people but by a phalanx of flashing gadgets. Machines attached to best-dressed humanoids.

But it's not just the Queen. We photograph everything. Avidly.
Why is that? Just because we can, or because we need to prove to ourselves afterwards that we were there?
It's as if we don't live in the present anymore. We photograph the present, to view at leisure afterwards, when it will have become the past, and already starting to fade into the gentle realm of nostalgia.
How many folders of digital pix have you got lurking on your computer?
I might have to plead the Fifth Amendment on that question, but one glance at my blog will have told you that I'm image-incontinent.
Or image-addicted.

Clickety-click - it's mine

Years ago I forced myself to go through all our albums and drawers of actual, old-fashioned hard-copy photographs. I picked out the best and ditched everything else. A pretty drastic measure made easier by the time that had elapsed since they'd been taken. The 'winners' of that trial by cold selection now live in half-a-dozen shoeboxes in the spare room.
The awful truth is, I never look at them, but then I never looked at the albums either.

It's probably because there are just too many! Who takes A picture, or even A film (36 pictures) any more? This is the age of splatter-photography: an infinite number of images for any one occasion, multiplied by however many people were there.
It's made me start wondering. At what point do photos showing us smiling, laughing and enjoying ourselves become more important than the actual memories of a special day.? Photos capture certain moments, but do they also, surreptitiously, replace them?
What does recording every moment of our lives say about us?
I pictured-it, therefore I am.

Some of my best memories are the ones that aren't recorded. And some of the best pictures are the one-offs. Like those sepia or black and white portraits of great-grandparents and other relatives. People long gone, and who were not, in the scheme of things, captured and encapsulated very often. They mostly look quite solemn, as befits the Event of having a photograph taken. And they ooze dignity, and presence - they are a fitting memorial. If only a handful of pictures of me were to survive, I'd rather they looked like this than some of the ones I know to be out there!

My grandmother

In my son's pre-digital babyhood, I decided to keep the BEST pictures of him every year (3 or 4 max) and put them in a special album which at some stage I could pass on to whoever became his nearest and dearest in adult life. I look at that album a lot - I suppose because it's the cream of the crop and because it's him.It's a snapshot (ha ha) of his life up to 21.

I'm currently going through the afore-mentioned shoeboxes and - bit by bit - scanning the 'best of the rest'. A laborious job, but well worth it, because now I look at them again. My computer screen-saver randomly selects photos from my growing collection, so when it's been idle for more than a minute or two, a wonderful picture-show begins. Totally distracting, and absolutely wonderful, as I never know what will appear - past or present. Way better than dusty shoeboxes. Life goes round and round.

Perhaps photographs are the ultimate form of recycling?

The whole photography thing fascinates me.
If you look back on the history of art (in very broad terms, this is) - it seems to me that figurative art in its most perfect form died a kind of death when photography began. I suppose because art is always trying to reach beyond mundane expression, and with the advent of photographs the representational figure became increasingly mundane.First there were the Impressionists and then art became more and more abstract.
When photography had supplied all our figurative needs for long enough, it too started to go abstract. One way and another we are now in image-overload, so we have moved on again. It seems that art (please remember the broad terms here), has mutated into the realms of homoeopathy. We have installations or pieces that hint at concepts that might once have been art. All essence but no substance. Metaphysical art.

Mirrors within mirrors

Where will it end?
As we play more and more with the photographic image, will the other end of the art spectrum gently swing back towards desiring representational integrity? Will the concept of figurative painting become intrinsically valuable again?

What we want images to reflect may change with time and fashion, but one thing is certain, our addiction to them isn't going to change.

What do we see?

In some parts of the world there were, and possibly still are, people who believed that having your photo taken was a kind of theft. It literally took from you - perhaps even your soul.

And there are others who believe that 'graven images' and photos of people or animals can oust or replace God in the minds of those who value them too highly; can be 'worshipped' in place of God.
Bearing in mind our universal addiction to images, it's possible to see the reasoning behind this, even if you don't agree with it.

As a species we are very scared of what, in the design business, is called negative space - the void. The blank piece of paper, the gap on the page, the empty slot.
And weirdly, in a room where there are blank walls - no pictures - the walls press in on us. The room seems smaller. Hang a few pictures up and the walls move back, the soul has room to expand.

It's a conundrum, isn't it?

I wonder if it's about validation?
Maybe it's not just the walls that press in on us.
Maybe time presses on us harder than we want. Time and our inevitable end
Pictures prove that we live and are. That we were here. That we created, and procreated. And they live after us.
We need to leave a mark.
Even if it's only a zillion photos of ourselves.

We see what we want to see

In case you missed my recent post, joy of joys, my blog problems are resolved. (Thank you, dear brother.)

YOU can now Subscribe to this blog, should you so desire, in the happy knowledge that your friendly cyber-postman WILL finally deliver new posts, hot and fresh-minted, to your email door (after months of complete failure in that department)

If you are one of my valued and loyal Followers, please note that you also need to Subscribe in order to receive notifications of new posts.

Just click on Subscribe at the top right hand side of the page and fill in your details.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.


  1. At first I could not see your pix, but I enjoyed the words nd as i was commenting, the screen went black and then your post emerged whole! So now I get to see there are wonderful photos too. You have a gift for capturing light and shade. And your grandmother was beautiful.
    Katherine Whitehorn has also observed that we put energy into recording a moment rather than enjoying it. I may have the quote somewhere.

    1. Goodness, I wonder what that was all about?! I'm glad the screen resolved itself in the end. Thank you for your comment and compliment. Yes, my grandmother was beautiful, wasn't she? Sadly I newer knew her as she died very young.
      I would be interested to see the quote you mention. I think it's one of those weird things that has crept up on us unawares - the almost frenetic desire to record everything, often at the expense of living it.


Ah, go on! Make my day - leave a comment!