Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nuns, Nudes and Nomads

At my old storage unit, I used to be able to gauge what time of the year it was by the volume of mud, flies and excrement. I became resigned to the mud,  gradually accepting that washing my car was a completely futile task. But I never got used to the flies.

For some reason, my car was a fly-magnet and on some days I counted over 50, before giving up in despair. Whenever I opened the car door, several flies would sneak inside and hide, waiting until I'd reached a critical speed on the journey home. I nearly crashed on several occasions, trying to steer with one hand and swat with the other.

My new premises appear to be fly and mud-free. Also, I can now watch the seasons change. This is how the view has altered during the last few weeks:

I'm looking forward to having my lunch breaks by the lake.

During today's trip to work, I found a collection of the Photography Year Book from the late 1950s and early 60s.

As a schoolboy I used to avidly pour through copies of these at the local library (mainly because they contained photographs of naked ladies), but hadn't looked at one for years. I'd forgotten how each collection had the same recurring subjects.

Here are a few of those themes:

1. The Still Life:

I didn't like them when I was 13. I'm not that keen now, although I've learned that if I'm with people in a gallery, I must say something positive about the "form" and "composition" rather than risk exposing myself as a complete philistine. "I like the interplay between the horizontal and verticle leaves..."

2. The Very Wrinkled Old Person:

There was a time when no widow in an Italian hill town could safely go to confession without being assailed by a photographer, who would then bundle her into a pensione and take a series of unflattering portraits. As much as I like the lined face and knowing eyes, it has become something of a cliché.

3. The Naked Lady Landscape Shot:

Yes, it's a nude woman. But she's imitating a natural feature on a beach or in a national park and she's not wearing saucy underwear, so this is a serious photograph. Isn't it?

4. The Special Effects Study:

They say "I achieved this effect by using a 200mm lense at f/5 and a halogen flash at a shutter speed of 1/4..." and all I can think is, was it worth it? Trees at night-time.

5. Some People in a Third World Country:
These pictures were a doddle, once you'd convinced the subjects that the camera wasn't stealing their souls.

The people would either be naked or wearing outlandish clothing, so a successful photograph was almost guaranteed. These days, you'll have to ask the subjects to removed their Nike t-shirts for a few minutes.

6. A Picture of an Animal:

You may say that it's just a picture of a sparrow in the grass, but apparently it's good enough to be published.

Perhaps sparrows are hard to photograph.

8. A Photograph of Anything, As Long As It Features a Nun:

Beyond the usual themes of nuns, nudity, abstract compositions and old people I found a few pictures that I really liked. Here is a small selection:

Nurses praying? I'm very relieved that none of my nurses had to turn to prayer when I was in hospital a couple of months ago.

I enjoyed looking at the work of so many gifted photographers, but what struck me most was how commonplace the exotic images of Chinese peasants, African tribeswomen and Arab nomads appeared, while the once mundane pictures of British miners and city gents in bowler hats seemed extraordinary. How times have changed.


George said...

What in the world is the method of computation in the second picture you liked?

Steerforth said...

I can't make any sense of it. The list on the left looks more like phone numbers.

Anonymous said...

#5 is actually a photo in Alan Moorehead's book "No Room in the Ark"

Brett said...

I like the two cooks taking a smoke break. But, (sigh), it makes me want to smoke.

Steerforth said...

Anonymous - Well spotted! I'll have a look at the accompanying photos next time I find a copy of this book. I find several Mooreheads a day, all of which are sadly worthless. I suspect this is because he was very popular in his day and enjoyed large print runs.

Brett - Yes, this photo captures the glamour of smoking perfectly ;)

Annabel (gaskella) said...

A good eye with witty commentary. I liked the frogmen photo best - can't explain why!

Steerforth said...

Annabel - Me too! It's an extraordinary image.

MikeP said...

It's either a sign of the times or sad testimony to the warped state of my psyche that I find the one of the bearded gent and the two schoolboys mildly sinister...

As for praying, my ex-parents-in-law used to tell the story of their plane having to circle Lisbon to burn off fuel because of some (as it turned out) non-emergency and seeing the flight attendants on their knees in the galley, praying. Not very confidence-inspiring!

Steerforth said...

MikeP - I don't like the Latins' attitude to flying. When my plane from Buenos Aires to Santiago landed safely, everyone on board clapped as if it could have gone either way. It didn't help me overcome my fear of flying.

As far as the bearded man goes, I can look at any image like this without seeing a dark subtext.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Love the photo of the changing clouds as reflected in the lake outside your new "office'...

As someone who likes to take photos, I'm probably guilty of every cliche in the book! I prefer to take and print photos which are non-threatening and which illumiate natural beauty in some way. There are enough other people out there, taking pictures of all the human misery which surrounds us. Pollyanna-ish? Probably.

Re: the clapping on the plane when it lands safely. Canadian carter flights from Vancouver to Honolulu used to do that every time. It wasn't just that the plane had made it safely, it was so they could disembark and let the partying begin! As someone born in Canada, I can only add that it's fun to travel with Canadians -- but exhausting!

And before I forget -- happy Easter to you and yours. xoxox

Steerforth said...

Carol - I'd be clapping if I arrived at Honolulu!

I hope you have a lovely Easter with your nearest and dearest.

Judith said...

I like the frogmen image. But as for the naked landscape shots - all I can think of is poor model, how uncomfortable for her!

Tororo said...

I strongly advise you to look for chocolate eggs in the grassy banks of this pretty pond, next Sunday: seems like a good place for Easter bunnies to lay their tasty productions!
By the way, at first sight I had a feeling that the second-to-last picture documented a human cloning experiment gone slightly out of control.

Steerforth said...

Judith - Yes, it's uncomfortable and the photographer is probably some old perv who's convinced the model that it's art.

Tororo - Those boys almost look like Siamese twins. The photo is rather unsettling, as if something has just happened.

Duncan Juvonen said...

Is the man behind the book Bernard Buffet? The eyes on the book cover certainly seem to be his work.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Love the praying nurses! Sublime!

Tom Cunliffe said...

As a keen photographer I agree how repetitious it all can be. But then there are various lists of recurring plots in literature. Nothing new under the sun.

By the way, if you're not a member of blogger, the comment system for "foreigners" is horrendously difficult to negotiate! (or perhaps it's just my eyes)

Steerforth said...

Tom - I hate the word verification system and went without it for years, but when I started to get spam comments advertising rather unsavoury products, I decided to take action.

Anonymous said...

Picture number 7 looks very much like the Lloyd Webber brothers.