Sunday, November 07, 2010


I should declare my hand at the very start - I am an unabashed fan of the way digital storage and the merging of phones, cameras and the internet has changed the photographic landscape. That virtually everyone is carrying a camera of some kind is an amazing step forward for photo journalism if nothing else. I was reminded of this the other night when the Qantas A380 experienced a radical engine failure. Parts of the cowling flew off and made a scary hole in the wing. The phlegmatic passengers who were sat in the windows could have panicked, prayed or written their wills. Instead they took pictures of the damage. Then other passengers passed them their cameras in order that they too could have pictures.

Photography is now past being a hobby. Taking pictures now seems to be something people do when anything worthy of note or even life threatening occurs. I saw someone taking pictures at a funeral a few weeks ago. Since when did we take photographs at a funeral?

But I love photographs of all kinds. Other peoples pictures are great, even if I don't know them. When I was a kid I couldn't understand why people got bored of looking at other people's holiday snaps. I loved other people's family photos. I still remember my Aunty Margaret coming home with three hundred slides of a trip to the United States and I sat dazzled in her darkened front room with the slide projector rattling through the entire collection. I hadn't even left the country at that stage and I was entranced - and green with envy of her two boys my age. But most of all I vowed to take myself to America at the earliest possible opportunity, which I did. And when I got there I took hundreds of photos, which nobody really wanted to see.

Maybe it was being an only child, for even the most mundane of family shots fascinated me. I'd look at the way people held themselves next to each other, or sat on top of one another, or stood their distance. They smiled, or frowned. They threw themselves in front of the lens or had clearly been dragged there. Sometimes parts of them were missing because SLR photography did not exist and often you had to guess where to point the thing to get the shot. Light sometimes ruined the film, and left blasts of red and white light across flat landscapes of caravans and cows. Clearly this random odd quality is missed by more people than just me because you can get an iphone app (Hipstamatic) that puts in all the old imperfections and grainy effects into your brand new hi-res snaps.

Recently I've been sent lots of pictures of my relatives, which have been an utter delight. I don't know who some of them are, but the mystery serves to make the stills more interesting. Above is a picture of my Great Grandfather dating from the 1920's. Photos were obviously much more of an effort then and hugely costly, which makes the picture of him with his bicycle all the more unusual and interesting. Whereas anything you don't like these days can be binned instantly and another shot taken, which is a shame, in a way, imperfections adding so much more to life and our desperate efforts to capture and record it.

1 comment:

Hendo said...

I've got some good stories about some good photos, and some bad ones too