Photography. I was in my early teens when I really became interested in taking photographs. My father came home one day with a Brownie box camera, which he’d picked up from a second hand shop, and I was off and running. A close friend and I egged each other on. We read about theory and photocomposition. We experimented with lighting. We tried a lot of candid photography: we often went to Leicester Square at the weekends and took pictures with our cameras held low below our waists, trying to capture natural facial expressions. It was not always a success, but we enjoyed being stealthy. My friend converted part of his parents’ flat into a darkroom, and when we were not trying to learn guitar riffs we’d be developing negatives. Strips would be hanging there, then we’d work with printing different sizes and different solutions. It looked like a true studio.
We graduated from our rudimentary cameras to makes and models that were more sophisticated at the time: Pentax, Leica, Zenit, Rollei. Photos defined many things we did, as we were able to keep memories visually when many were still not into doing that. Camera equipment was bulky. We had the bags, the spare lenses, the extra film (different speeds, black and white, colour), tripods, flashes, etc. We were serious about this hobby. Pictures abounded. Albums became swollen. People could guarantee that they would see themselves after an event because one of us would be taking pictures. After we left school and our paths began to diverge, we still kept up our interests, and would occasionally share envelopes full of prints of our work.
Photography frames many memories even without pictures to recall them. I think back to several weeks of holiday photographs which were lost because the camera back was not closing properly and all of my negatives had been pre-exposed. Aaargh! Dropping a camera into water–that was the disaster in the days before mobile phones :-). Having an armed guard grabbing my camera in China, telling me that I could not take pictures in a public square. Seeing children press their faces together as they posed for pictures, first as a group, then each person separately. The wonder of digital pictures, which would allow people to see photographs of themselves for the first time and in an instant.
For the longest time, I did not feature much in pictures of events where I was present–I was always behind the lens. That changed a little when I came upon the idea of letting those present use my camera to record the events as they saw them–a kind of crowdsourcing, I guess. Each person’s eye sees events so differently. Children’s views are often wonderful as they come from low points. Some people liked little things on which to focus, such as cake candles or toys, or to take pictures of themselves :-). It was always amusing to take back the camera and scroll through the portfolio of images taken by different people: I could usually work out who had been the photographer. I often used to give my camera to my now-third grader and then see what she’d felt inclined to snap: I have lots of pictures of her nose, eyebrows, lips, hands and feet. Nothing like a little self-love :-).
I sometimes have fun taking pictures of people that show them at their most distracted. I love to photograph feet, which as I say ‘never lie’. The toes wiggle. The ankles cross. They tap out a beat. They hang over legs crossed. Pull out a camera and feet keep doing their thing, while the face starts to react to the prospect of being captured.
For a long time, I really did not take pictures with any sense of wanting to be a technical wizard, but I loved having the visual memories. My neck and shoulders often recalled events just as well because I would be toting my camera equipment. My trips sometimes started badly after I realised that I had forgotten my camera, or a less, or some extra film. Time moves. Technology changes. I have not taken a picture with my camera for well over a year, but I have a growing stock of photographs and videos. Now, everywhere I go, I have a camera–in my phone. Now, everywhere I go, I see people trying to capture their own images. Once, it was rare to be the picture taker, now it’s rare to not be taking a picture. Once, we would crane our necks to get a view of an album. Once, we would be ‘entertained’ to a night of slides of holidays, birthdays, scenes, and scenes, and things seen. Now, we can share in the viewing of the images without moving a step.
My love has been still images, even with the ease that now exists if one wants to see video images. I find something special about a still moment captured. The mind likes to work and fill in gaps. Maybe, that’s why I love taking pictures of food or meals. There’s so much more to remember than what was on the plate at a given time.