Friday, October 17, 2008

Photo Reflections

September and early October proved hard going – and not just for the banks (why does Robert Peston speak in that odd way?)

The Summer, by contrast, was idyllic for me - with wonderful stays in Edinburgh, Greece and Italy.

Once back in Blighty, everything seemed to start going pear-shaped!

Sometimes I feel my life is like 100 plates spinning on tall poles.

When I – most unusually – take three weeks off in a month, they first lose rotational speed, then wobble, and start to crash to the ground.

I shan’t bore you with the details, but in September and early October, problem followed problem.

I struggled to keep my life on an even keel.

Then, just when I thought I was getting on top of it, a scrote plundered my bank account, making me thousands of pounds overdrawn (and I couldn't even blame Peston).

My best guess is that while paying for meals in Greece or Italy my debit card was cloned, and then – a month on – a villain started spending my cash on the Continent like there was no tomorrow.

Now the account is frozen and the bank – which, typically, did not notice a thing – is investigating.

I have been in reflective mood following this. . . but also, strangely, because of photography.

Let me explain.

In 1970, aged 10, I started taking photographs – and have never stopped.

I have tens of thousands of them from the past 37 years, but until recently I have never attempted to catalogue them.

So early this year, I decided to see what I had in terms of images!

I thoroughly enjoyed cataloguing the black-and-white photographs I had taken in the 1970s and those I had inherited from the 1950s and 1960s.

However, with new images coming in all the time, I was never likely to finish the task unless I put a lid on new arrivals.

Rashly, I decided to catalogue the photographs in the collection taken this year.

I should not have bothered.

Rarely have I endured such a tedious exercise.

What I always considered to be a hobby is really an addiction.

So far this year there are 73 sets of images in my collection – most 36s, some 24s, and about two-thirds film and one third digital.

Going through them was one of the most boring things I have ever done.

I could not believe how repetitive my photography has become.

Even though I am taking pictures largely on film, I suffer from photographic diarrhoea, producing 20 images of an object or person where one or two would suffice.

When the penny dropped, I stopped taking photos for the first time in more than 35 years.

It has been a revelation.

For the first time in a long time I have been looking at sights of beauty and truly appreciating them.

For instance, the other day I arrived early on a Saturday morning at my allotment at Earwig Corner and found it shrouded in mist.

As the sun rose behind me, the dew on my shed evaporated like steam in a sauna, and before me the blanket of mist over the landscape gradually lifted during a period of at least half an hour until the distant chalk cliff came into view like a giant sticking its head through a cloud.

It was a really beautiful sight and one I would not have appreciated through the viewfinder of a camera.

It makes me think that photographers are often so obsessed with capturing images that they do not truly look and appreciate.

On holiday in Greece and Italy, I noticed it all over the place.

People were so mad about filming that they snapped away and videoed constantly, hardly glancing at what they were recording, probably never to be viewed.

Now I have started to look for myself again, I realise that photographs cannot compare with the sheer depth and stunning beauty of the original.

The best lens is the eye, the best camera is the brain, the best images are held in the mind’s eye.

By comparison, many of the images in my enormous collection pale into insignificance.

Sure, there are some interesting pictures of subjects I would probably have otherwise forgotten.

However, there are also some atrocious shots, and the overall impression is of a maniac behind the shutter release.

This and my woes set me thinking more deeply about a whole range of areas.

Why do I attend my local church in Lewes?

I was appalled by the pronouncements of the vicar – or 'Rector' as he likes to be called – at the recent Harvest Festival service.

He preached that it was “un-Christian” to buys eggs or chickens that were not free range.

As it happens, I buy free range produce.

However, if I were struggling to feed a family on the breadline, I would not appreciate being called 'un-Christian' for buying a bargain battery bird from Tesco.

Readers of this blog may recall my previously mentioning this Anglican priest as the man who produced his stinking socks for his homily at a Christmas morning service.

(What do you make of that, Mad Priest Blogger?)

Moreover, you can attend his church for weeks on end and hardly hear a mention of Christ, such is the obsession with the Old Testament.

The Rector a nice chap, but the problem with the C of E, as with the Roman Catholic Church, is that parish priests have an enormous amount of freedom and are hardly controlled by their bishops.

The best of the clergy are marvellous, but the others either embark on their own kooky journey of faith – or do something really bad.

The other day I was thinking of the Rector’s pleas for his congregation to tithe – give one tenth of their income – to the church.

Then I walked past the great big comfortable rectory and looked at the two newish vehicles parked outside, and thought: ‘No, I will make my own choices, thank you very much indeed.’

I think I shall find another church in Lewes to attend – and keep my donations indexed-linked to the cost of a pint of Harvey’s Best Bitter.

Then I started to think about the internet and my presence on it.

Why have a spent some much time creating Oliver’s Poetry Garret and what part does it play in my life?

Firstly, I guess I write for the same reasons I photograph.

It is a compulsion and an obsession.

When I was a child, I was always making notes, just as I was always thinking of taking photographs, pocket money allowing.

So I write for someone.

When I was national newspaper columnist, my words would have been read by hundreds of thousands or even millions of readers.

Now they might be read by just a handful, but I don’t mind.

I derive pleasure simply from the process of writing.

MySpace is really the home of self-publicists (though aren’t all websites?) and the people who use it most enthusiastically are plugging their music or comedy gigs.

It is interesting to follow what of my former Joe’s Comedy Madhouse acts are up to.

But, despite its initial phenomenal success, MySpace strikes me as a poorly designed and ultimately flawed platform.

It is ugly to look at and few users I know run successful blogs off it or reply to email on it.

But what’s good in my life?

The Poetry Café has been kind to me and my experiences out have inspired me to start a long narrative poem based very loosely based on the life of Byron.

Thusfar I have written 85 verses (of eight lines each).

It is a bit of fun and I am quietly pleased with progress.

Also on a positive note, I was lucky enough to witness The Mighty Rooks (Lewes Football Club) chalk up their first win of the season (after a mere 12 matches) - against The Mighty Yellows (Oxford) - on the hallowed turf of The Dripping Match (down my street).

Chris and Chris have signed me up to write a column for the Rooks' unofficial fanzine, of which they are editors.

I am calling it High On Spring Water (Lewes have closed their ground's bar during matches), and I am told the first edition will appear in the next issue of this marvellous organ, which is entitled Ten Worthing Bombers (and a bargain at less than two guineas).

Returning to my reflections on photography, I have taken one photographs from each of the recent films I have had processed and used them to illustrate this blog entry.

Now I am up to speed with my 2008 cataloguing, I have taken a vow to stop taking photos like a lunatic.

On a recent visitation to York, I stayed in a hotel which had marvellous Victorian photographs adorning its walls. Each a beautiful one-off.

From now on I shall be a Victorian photographer, taking a frame here, a frame there. Thinking and planning my images, not wasting film.

At least it will give me a chance to get on and catalogue my photographic output for the 1980s, 1990s and the rest of the 2000s.

By the way, don't miss A F Harrold's performance at Lewes Pint of Poetry, Lewes Arms, on 24 October 2008.

And I have used some of my archive pictures to liven up some of my old blog entries (see below).


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear that you had all the bank trouble.

I am not into photographs at all. I never notice them on anyone's blog and i rarely take any myself. I quite like very old photos - just to see how things have changed but that is all.

I get really cross with parents at school events who can never actually watch something in real time - they only ever do so through the viewfinder of a camera or video recorder. Why can't they just sit and enjoy the occasion - it;ll never be the same when they watch it back and it spoils it for everyone else when they bob up and down.

The most important thing about a photograph is being there to take it in the first place - not looking at it later.

And my heart sinks when someone gets out a wad of holiday photos!!

But I am a words person not a photo/picture person at all.

Sunday, 19 October, 2008  
Blogger The Poet Laura-eate said...

I come from the opposite perspective in that I seldom used to take any photographs or really value them and have only recently started to do so - since writing a blog and acquiring a digital camera, strangely enough. I try to be ruthless about deleting the duds and the not-so-goods, but I have still managed to fill a 500-photo card and accumulate a few others besides in frighteningly short time. I think I was influenced by my grandparents who came from a generation where a dozen photographs might be taken over the course of a lifetime and that would be about it. On the plus side, they certainly valued the few that they had. I think you are right that real life and real memories are what matters though rather than trying to capture time - or whatever the driving force between taking a lot of photographs might be. I hope you have been reimbursed for the theft from your account - what a horrid sting in the tail after a lovely holiday.
I trust you will post some of your new verse in due course Oliver, & look forward to bumping into you at the Poetry Cafe sometime!

Sunday, 19 October, 2008  

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