Thursday, June 29, 2006

you can't save them all

So there I am, stuck for two-three-four weeks (I forget) without a camera, and because I can't just reach for the camera I find myself looking at things harder. You'll have to look now, the thought goes, you won't be able to look later. Which brings me to the idea that perhaps the camera I keep in a pocket is a way of speeding up my movement through the day; looks nice? Oh, snap it, check it out later. Interesting toy/gizmo/garment? Take a photo, you can make up your mind later and in meantime, you've fixed it harder in your memory -- both actual and auxilary.

With that in mind, I buy a Fuji disposable (with flash), pull one of my Ilford disposables out of the photoshelf and make a mental note to buy a Tesco's Value Camera the next time I'm in Tescos (and forget, of course, what with my memory being impaired). At one time I used nothing but disposables, and after experimentation, decided those three were the best. The Fuji's surprisingly faithful, with excellent colour reproduction. The Ilford is the superior fixed-focus black-and-white option, good for both bright exteriors and indoor portraits. Tesco's Value Camera produces colours so vivid they almost look cross-processed, with a lens so cheap it smears a variable distortion over a good quarter of the image. The toy camera fan's choice.

But disposables don't work for me any more.

I'm too used to looking at things close-up, in the dark, across the road and underneath stuff. I've grown accustomed to gilding my shots with little snippets of ambient sound. And naturally when I get them processed I want CDs, to avoid the faff of scanning, and that's expensive. I'm spending twice as much on the processing as I do on the cameras, and even though I'm processing at Boots, where extra expenditure means free shampoo, it's not consistent with my current "I must stop spending so much money" drive. I'm catching maybe a quarter of the shots I see, and the rest are blowing away, rustling down the street like prematurely withered leaves. You can't save them all, but I'm sure I could manage a better percentage.

I see pictures, ocassionally take them. More often think: no, it won't translate. In the end, it's an oily skin on the brackish liquid in a soaking tea-cup that sends me to the shop, thinking: I must find something to preserve that sickly rainbow. It takes me until 6pm to find a workable camera, so in the end, I miss the rainbow.

I still haven't finished off my Ilford disposable.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

a groin, a gun and a rose in the gutter

Let the sad sounds come and loss be recorded. My camera was stolen, whipped from my pocket, flat battery and sticking zoom and all, at a replacement loss of £180, of which my insurance will cover £80. Payable to my co-mortgagee, whose name is listed first on the insurance.

You think I care about that? I also lost a full memory card. Thirty-five pictures of Action Men modded into weird art-pieces for a Soho gallery fundraiser, and one of a wet rose petal in a Soho gutter.

This is what I remember off of the memory card: photos I took that will never be seen.

Shot 1: Red rose petal crumpled slightly into a rough approximation of a heart, caught in a burst of sunshine between showers, stuck to a damp pavement. Photographed looking straight down, so that the cracks between the slabs draw straight defining lines from the top of the shot to the bottom. Location: Soho square.

Shot 2: In the foreground, the black trousers of an Action Man who had been minimally modded by having a funny hat stuck on him. The hat's not visible, though: you have big boots, black trousers in that fine weave they use for doll's clothes, with a small plastic automatic pistol (also black) poked into a thigh pocket. We're too close to see his perspex case, but beyond, in perspective, about five more cases stretch back along the featureless white wall to an untidy alcove desk cluttered with postcards, fliers and books, behind which, in profile, a trendy-haired young man is sitting, staring intently at something which although hidden by the side of the alcove and angle of the shot, his posture implies is a computer.

Shot 3: Tight close-up on the unclothed groin of another of the modded Action Men, the viewfinder held steady against the perspex case fox maximum stillness and closeness. This one has had stylish little cartoons, jaggedy-headed and a bit wild-looking, drawn all over it (except the head) in what looks like red and black permanent marker. It's kind of reminiscent of a Haring performance piece, which is half the reason why I concentrate on the groin; the other half is that I want to capture the elaborate ball joints of the hips in all their unnecessary sophistication.

... and at this point I become aware that I've missed a shot, maybe two. The next one I remember is one where I had difficulty persuading the autofocus not to blur the wrong bit of a dramatic perspective shot. Then the one where I had problems getting just the right angle on the Action Man who'd been laid out in a miltary coffin. I'm skipping the easy shots, only remembering the ones that fought back. I remember that I took a lot of close detail shots of clothes, hair, painting and accessories, but the content drifts when I try to think what. I find myself instead constructing the lost shot by remembering the doll as a whole and then trying to guess what I would have photographed, given the camera and my interests, and the fact that I was in a bit of a hurry.

I edit on the fly, discarding the out-of-focus and uninteresting using the postage-stamp-sized preview window, so most shots I saw two or three times. There were some that really worked for me; a close up of the elaborately-stitched belting on a graffiti superhero mod, another of a plastic guitar streaked with the dolls long hair. Things like that mostly; accessories isolated and made huge, pulled up out of doll-scale by the application of close attention.

I'd nearly filled the memory card when the battery gave up, meaning that the full memory card went with my camera. Leaving me with not with digital images or physical prints, but the absence of photos, not-photos, little dotted lines around the empty space where the photos should be. The memory's attempts to see again that rectangular slice of space/time. A return from evidence to the first-hand account with all the dislocating innacuracies and disturbances to continuity that invariably brings. Am I rememberering the actual photos, or just filling in with a likely "memory", given knowledge of my taste, interests and eye?

On the other hand, this theft dropped my pictures out of the collection action (this image is mine!) and into somewhere not so far from the action of photos you see in an exhibition, or a library book, or on a friend's wall, where the typical viewing experience is the act of seeing, a time (of variable length) of consideration, followed by (hopefully) a lingering memory, fading over time. You don't expect to remember everything from a gallery visit; but you'd expect the odd stand-out image to remain, even to recur, days, maybe even years later.

It's tempting to think that their loss performed an acceleration on the erosive action of memory, dumping the generic and uninteresting, leaving only the most stand-out still visible to the inner eye. But I suspect that the mental attempt both to reconstruct what I took and to minimise the importance of their loss has resulted in a sort of mental overexposure, which both fades the deficiencies of the shots and intensifies their satisfying thisness. They've become the ones that got away, idolized and overemphasised by the poingnacy of loss. They stand a good chance of becoming the photos I'll never forget.

Consider the example of an old television advert, that most disposable of artpieces, which I found by accident one day looking for some blank space on a VHS tape to record some cartoon over. "That's fantastic," I thought, "I'll have to make sure I don't tape over that." And of course I did, mere moments later. As a result, it's branded on my mind.

The screen is blank orange, and you can hear morning sounds; cars in the street, birds. A woman starts speaking, and she starts talking and it catches you by surprise at first because there's no picture, just that orange colour, and by the time you tune in, she's saying:

and I can hear him moving around downstairs
and I'm painting my toenails
bright orange
he's already leaving
he's gone

It was for cosmetics. Boots No7, to be precise.