SPECTACULARLY DULLISH

ALL LIGHTS & NO FIZZ

ALL LIGHTS & NO FIZZ

Nimbly loading the 110mm film into my slim line compact camera, I was now ready to capture and record what was to me of significant importance and interest. Having only 24 exposures, I knew that care, rigorous selection and aesthetic quality would be crucial in ensuring that each image would suffice my intentions. Perusing my surroundings I planned my agenda, firstly there were dads slippers strewn on the living room floor, dishevelled in appearance with an uneven wearing to the right sole. Next the cat, unfortunately far to fast for my agile skills and so I settled for her occiput as she darted from view. Long before I even understood still life, my interest had now fallen towards the half used bottle of toxic green washing up liquid perched upon the kitchen sill, its sides a sticky collection of residue and finger prints. Being only 7, my approach to the art of photography could be likened to that of a machine gun wielding revolutionary, peppering the contents of the barrel in every direction possible, without care or concern.

Those 24 exposures were an eclectic collection of the mundanity and normality of 70’s childhood, toys always a keen favourite, wooden handled kitchen utensils, wilting garden plants and of course unsuspecting members of the family. Awarding each image a distinct unequivocal connection to the era was the orange hue, slight blurriness and an exposure which, permanently rested at both ends of the spectrum, very rarely falling into the area of correctness. There was no pause for thought, the roll, once inserted was just as quickly used, the finger never leaving the trigger, everything that passed my peripheral became a subject, nothing could evade the stretch of the plastic lens.

Film exhausted it would be carefully sealed along with the £1.79 developing cost inside the FOTOPOST envelope, the back of which required you to choose the desired print size, which always posed a dilemma in whether what was on the film was worthy of enlargement. Once transferred to the charge of the Royal Mail, all I could do was wait, hopeful that what came back exceeded expectations. True to 70’s efficiency, within a few weeks a brightly coloured envelope adorned with flattering image of Wendy Craig claiming that FOTOPOST was her product of choice would fall through the door, without doubt this was the heaviest and brightest of letters, anchoring itself to the bristles as it thudded to the mat. The heavy din became an invitation to invade privacy, as the majority of fallen sleeves were more often than not brown with red overdue stamps, boldly positioned for all to see, yet now this infrequent thump gave birth to an unwritten rule, that whoever saw first gained rightful honour to front seat premier. This was unfortunate as it enabled an editing process of undesirable portraits to be deleted from the stack before my own inspection.

Leafing through the quantity of highly glossed images there was always a disappointment in my efforts, when recalling the scene intended in comparison to the actual evidence in hand. Unbeknown to me the little 110 always failed to see what I saw, however despondency to one side I now had in my possession a collection of artefacts, relics of yesterday, never to be repeated, which once gazed upon would be relegated to the shoebox under the bed. Blatantly ignoring my own mistakes I would quickly reload with the free film included with my prints and  commence the whole routine once again…same pictures…different day.

I still have most of those prints, buried deep in the attics labyrinthine of stored memories and keepsakes, and thinking back I often question why I took those images, scenes of everything and anything, what was it that forced me to press the button in such a hurried amount of time. Obviously there is no real mystery, firstly age would have been paramount in that this piece of technology was as magical as the golden fleece. To be able to see and then embellish onto paper was nothing to be sniffed at, and at an young age there was no real reason in my commitment. Then of course it was the 70’s, photography was the hobby of masters, of which only the individual bestowed with the title of “Dad” could ever understand, something so complicated and delicate could never be entrusted to women or children. However when we acquired our new Kodak 110mm, its simplicity and sturdy slender brick design seemed ergonomically suited to smaller hands…..and brains.

Today my approach and interest to photography has altered greatly, I very rarely carry a camera outside of work (albeit the phone) and don’t feel the urge to capture what I have viewed time and time before. This isn’t to say that I don’t take random snaps, because I do, its just you never really see them, as with their predecessors they end up in the shoebox, although now its digital. Maybe it’s age or laziness, but I sometimes struggle to understand why people feel the need to record certain occasions, and the point in interest is fireworks! This week the veins of social media have been forcefully injected with an overdose of blurring incandescent light trails, explosions and streaks, set against thickly smoked skies, all gently falling back to earth  from whence they came. Having November 5th fall on the weekend, gave right of passage for three whole nights of wartime blitzing, back garden jaunts, organised events and or course youth fuelled duels with Roman candles, so inevitably someone, somewhere would take out the camera. For me the hands stayed safely buried inside the thermal lining of my jacket, watching and recording the screeching dazzling lights mentally, I could if needed describe the spectacular images verbally, but at no point did I feel the need to record, reproduce digitally and share. Surely I’m not the only one who see’s this weeks firework displays and unconsciously replaces last years arresting memory with this years fresh vision of dazzling awe. The images administered in heavy doses I feel fall into two distinct categories, those of occasions and those of just light and sky and its the latter portion which puzzles me. Images void of people, buildings, perspective or attachment, ambiguous evanescent memories that over time fade, just as quickly as the burning cinders floating elegantly and sorrowfully back down to the loam.

I’ve never seen the appeal in photographing fireworks. When there is nothing else within the image over time you are unable to specify a year or recall the events that preceded or followed, the image becomes just another firework, all lights no fizz. Photography is such a plenteous and generous medium , capturing what you saw and if given the opportunity so much more. The images shot with the 110mm, clearly show unvarying tediousness in all its glory, however it’s everything else captured within the frame and outside which has grown and become far more important than the initial topic intended for capture forty years ago. Those images over time have now blossomed into a treasured memory of childhood, acting to fill in the forgotten blanks, painting vivid recollections of youth. The bottle of soap is still there, but now what protrudes more prominently are the cracked red tiles of the sill, the mildew infested fissures of the window frame and the chink in the pane allowing access to the elements. Grubby tide marks creeping up the tulle drapes developed over years of mopping up suds from behind the taps, the parched thirsty plant pot and its struggling foliage and even more exciting the hazy view to the outside. Through the window you can see the neglected swing, of which my brother and I discovered is only made for one, a silhouette of a long forgotten pet dog and the garden shed where many an invention was created. All this from a simple photo of a bottle of suds.

Even the image of the cats hind shares more than intended, the torn linoleum flooring caused through years of gouging canine talons,  mop residue against the grubby kick-boards and the left foot of my brother, shoed in green flash. Forty years later the images work to trigger memory, leading the thought process in various directions of recall, structuring a clear untarnished memory image of home , as if it were yesterday. As mundane and pointless I presumed these images were, they now have been dusted and brought back to prominence through time, ageing and memory, And this is where I struggle with imagery that sits in the firework domain, what will the image of the black night and spray of gunpowder deliver in 40 years? Will these images unlock suppressed memories from that night, in my opinion I don’t think they will, their glory will be a profile picture, a handful of likes from friends and wannabe’s and then deletion…not even into a shoebox. 

Photography is extremely magnanimous towards its keeper, an ambiguous image of normality can over time deliver layer upon layer of memory, guide and open thoughts to moments long forgotten. Photography is simply a way of recording memories, hence why every notable occasion is captured, and even in old images of family gatherings, around the initial protagonist a strata of stories and answers can be found. We don’t have to save the camera for the spectacular, the whirring lights and falling ash, but capture whats in front of us, what we take for granted, I for one would be more interested in seeing the faces of the spectators than the actual subject they are spectating. Photography  will successfully capture a moment, but what we all may be guilty of is wasting that moment on a scene which serves no purpose other than to amuse briefly. Quite simply photography I feel has become a perpetual stoning of impermanent scenes, which with pause into where you direct the lens, could once again serve to yield layers of preserved reminiscent echoes for many years to come.