Confessions of an Old Fool, Part 2

After all the fuss and melodrama of the previous post, here is my shamefaced but somewhat relieved update. As many computer-savvy though not necessarily younger friends have patiently pointed out, deleting your photos just sends them to somewhere called the Recycle Bin where they sit patiently waiting for Restoration – think young Charles the Second (soon to be) in his French exile waiting for the call, perhaps.

Who knew? Er, everybody but me, it seems …

Anyway, panic over … but it has got me thinking. Why, when I thought my photos were gone forever, did I feel such crazy elation? Maybe because it gave me a chance to be funny. Perhaps I welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate my stoical strength in the face of catastrophe. But I suspect the real reason was that, all of a sudden, I felt free.

As my wondrously down-to-earth better-half put it, “You never look at them anyway.” She’s not wrong. I love the idea that they are there, of course, a kind of instant memory bank. One day I may be only too glad for the shortcut they provide to the past but for now it’s always the next thing that matters, not the last. If you’re always moving on, they tell me, you should travel light.

It may help that I grew up in a less visual culture. Radio was always more compelling than our dull 1950s television. Newspapers and magazines carried a small number of line drawings and black & white photographs. Jazz and even Rock’n’Roll worked their magic by inner dynamics where the way things looked was somehow less important. Now, image is everything and images are everywhere.

I’ve always been more comfortable with words. In a previous post, I compared words to a river running through us all. As a fossil record of our common past, words link us together. Could it be that the flow of communication, nowadays, is halted every time we look at a photograph with its hollow and distracting promise of a brand-new way of looking?

Photos always creep me out a bit, those flat and frozen moments in a limbo between life and death. Portraits are frequently too knowing – only models and actors manage to look natural. Candid snapshots are often intrusive. Nature photography can diminish and disappoint. I sometimes wonder if our visually-obsessed culture leaves us all swimming in the shallow end, more and more fearful of venturing into depths of experience which we lack the words to describe.

Like everything, I suppose, it’s a balance. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but only if manages some kind of meaningful communication in its own right. Has the balance swung too far in favour of appearance, I wonder? I read a great post recently about the spread of emoticons online ( follow What is the Big Deal? ) which made me wonder if visual stereotypes were starting to replace the subtle, nuanced use of words to deliver thought and emotion. Labels are the way we commodify the world, at our peril.

Deep waters, indeed, and I am barely afloat myself. You might say that photographs are to art what soundbites are to language. That said, I love trawling the internet for photos to illustrate my posts. I enjoy ironic juxtapostion. Perhaps that’s what I’m flailing towards here. Photos have their place in a context of words. Showing your holiday snaps to your neighbours would be an abuse of human rights without your and possibly their amusing commentary. And publishing a blogpost like this without the light relief of a weird and wacky illustration is the way to online oblivion. To add the context of words and thereby prove my point, I can only say that I find this photograph particularly uplifting …


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