Saturday, June 11, 2005

CF7 600 - People - 20 Saffron robeWhat is it about me?

Due to an administrative oversight (I forgot to do something, which messed up timings), on Wednesday I found myself loitering in the vicinity of a river. I'm sitting on a bench, pulling evils at the encroaching pigeons, when above the embankment wall a sunhat, with sunglasses perched on top, appears slowly levitating along. Through one of the gutter holes I catch sight of the face beneath. I'm thinking about the photographic potential, and my mind wanders to assessing the light on the willow trees elsewhere.

Suddenly I'm being hailed. The hat speaks. It's a man in a canoe, with a young son. I smile uncertainly. I'm told that as I look more trustworthy than some he's seen (is that a compliment or just faint praise, for the purposes of damning?) and as his son needs "a poo" (can anyone think of a suitable smalltalk reply to such information? Oh do you? And how long have you been doing that?, Did you learn that at school, or did Mummy and Daddy teach you? or Yes, I think Jerry - where is he? Over there. Jerry! - I think Jerry does that too) would I mind? Blank bewildered smile in return.

Fortunately he's not suggesting I accompany an unknown child into the loo, and instead wants me to hold the canoe. I ask if they have a painter. The question goes unanswered, as they don't appear to know what I mean. They clamber out, and for a while I think I'm going to be handed the paddle to hold her steady but it turns out the boy is sitting on a rope tied amidships. I kneel down to be passed it, and then hold it taut while they sort themselves out. He lifts the boy up the wall, and then struggles up himself (I'm glad there's a ledge I've never noticed there). They disappear towards a nearby pub.

And I'm left standing, holding a boat on a rope. I've done that before, but never in the middle of a largish town. Yes, Hi, Don't mind me, I'm just holding the end of a tatty bit of blue rope; as you can't see the canoe, there's not actually anything on the other end, and yes I'm just slightly deranged.

I stand, wondering if there's a camera loitering, with Dom Joly sniggering nearby (or worse still Jeremy Beadle, who's probably still doing his same old stuff, but on some godforsaken digital satellite channel (if he's not dead that is). I mean, how embarrassing would that be? Getting ensnared by some ghastly programme on a channel which one can't even receive?) but I hadn't seen any 6ft rabbits fighting yet, so I was probably safe.

Fairly soon I tire of standing, looking stupid, so using a drainage channel as a fairlead, I loop the rope round a tree and stick a couple of half hitches in it (why is it always so hard to do them the same way round first time? It's like bloody reef knots), as it's only a calm river on a windless day.

I stand waiting. Even when I'm not holding the rope I feel foolish. Eventually they reappear, shake hands (I hope he washed it), clamber down and get cast off.

I suppose it's not that odd, considering it is a river, with assorted boats on it, and young children do have an annoying habit of needing the loo, it's just, well, why me? It's as if there's some marker floating over my head, declaring to all that I'm an ideal candidate for daft questions and favours.

And then on Thursday, as I was walking up the bottom of a long, steep hill, a car pulled alongside (£1.29, but I only use my own handcuffs. Oh sorry wrong blog, I thought this was my publisher-seeking fictional-but-I'll-pretend-it-isn't Whored It On The Grapevine blog. I could do with the money, maybe I'll start one [heck, it's got to be more profitable than real prostitution]. Where's me thesaurus; let's see thrive, throat, thro...). The guy asks me the way to somewhere up the hill. I reply that I'm just going there, and it's up the hill and on the left. Car speeds off. Thanks would have been nice. A lift would have been better. But what can one expect from a man whose wherewithal strongly suggests he wants to be seen as richer than he probably is, and who is going to a place which has been referred to as the land of gilt and money (or maybe it was guilt and money, but I'm not sure they know the notion).

Although being a friendly, askable, unthreatening face does have its advantages. In the photography class (which was the reason I was hanging round killing time) we finally got round to comparing results for both the strangers and sporting sets. We'd postponed this last week because the Dutch girl (who is apparently going back Germany soon, and so might not actually be Dutch) hadn't done it, and other woman (known to the class as Demon Baby [and to the tutor as Devil Baby because she always gets names wrong] - one of her first prints was her enraged godson. His eyes are not a nice thing to have suddenly appear in the development tank. I'm not sure if she knows she's called this) wasn't there. This week, Dutch girl still hadn't done it, and Demon Baby still wasn't there.

Anyway, the remaining three descend on a table (outside, having moved on from several other places due to being drowned out by faltering Spanish or people discussing simpleton science). The tutor joins us. The other guy starts by laying down his sports pictures taken at Speedway. We make comments, well, mainly we wait for the tutor to say something and vaguely agree with it (or keep quiet if we don't. This probably annoys the tutor, but none of us are as confident as we ought to be). The main problem with his was the focussing, as his autofocus tended to take a fix and stay at that, so the dust behind the approaching bikes is in focus. The tutor also comments that as a whole they're a bit monotonous (er, bikes going round and round a circuit - it's always going to be fairly repetitive). The best (in my opinion, but it turned everyone else's as well) were one of the pack going round the bend, simply because of the light and the shadows in the rising dust; and one of a frustrated rider retiring, which isn't really a fast action shot, but communicates so much more.

Then it's my turn, with Goodwood [yet to be uploaded]. They're dead. The light wasn't great; it was high on a hill, so bright, with weak, scudding sunshine, but the film doesn't pick it up. Instead everything is washed out and slightly cool. The shots themselves aren't great either. There's only so much one can do with horses running along the far rail, and so most pictures are green and white, and greyer white. The shutter speed [1/500th or above] seems to have been ok, as there are some of horses hovering mid-gallop, but everything is so small and dull. Even on the shortest race, where I might have been able to get some better shots I mess things up. The horses thundered down the nearside, led by a horse which really wasn't happy with running past people (and this was when the course was near deserted). I get a far few shots, but because my camera is very manual I was doing the focusing, and overcompensated as they got nearer. So by the time it was back in focus, all that's visible is a neatly groomed arse.

My tutor's response to seeing them is to tell me to go back on a nicer day (but it was fairly nice), and to ask if I have considered getting a different camera. Yeah, but I can't afford one I'd want (and if I was going for a newer camera I'd probably go digital, and I like SLRs, and I wouldn't want to be limited by the output resolution, and then there's lenses to think about, and I know more now, and I think I'd need a mortgage for the one I want).

Which coincidentally reminds me that Stairs (who should be in the sidebar by now, but I'm lazy) has put a gallery of some of his work. The only way I can not become incredibly depressed when viewing it is to remind myself that my camera cost about a tenth of his. But I'm still in awe of the macroness of the macro on his Levis.

Which also vaguely reminds me (via slightly unusual heavenly phrases in emails, which says more about me than it does the respective writers, and I'm not including "you're a star" here, even though it is pretty unusual when applied to me. This makes no sense unless you happen to have written to me recently, in which case only part of it might make sense. But since when has sense been a tenet of this blog?) that the answer to Buzz's apostrophic* confusion is "[...] - oh Heavens! man, [...]"

* Which makes it sound like he doesn't eat, when really he was aspiring to be a grocer. Thus are the perils of inventing words.

And to really make Buzz feel better that quote was spoken by a character called Carruthers, in a book first published over a century ago.

Reverting to photography, and we moved on to the other guy's other pictures (I really must given him a blogname, but he doesn't exactly inspire any particular pithy name). It turns out he skipped the homework, and instead took some pictures when he went on holiday. The tutor is attentive, I scan them, and the Dutch girl doesn't even feign interest, but she has got industrial hayfever (and the pictures are in fairness someone else's holiday snaps. Oh look, it's the same girl who is in every shot. Ooh, she's wearing a different top - was this on a different day?). His shots do help demonstrate the disparity between different films. He compared the Agfa Ultra Color ISO 100 with the Fujicolor Portrait Film: Professional Color Negative Film 160 NPS. The comparison was not good.

On its own the Fuji would have been disappointing for a bog-standard film. Considering it is supposed to be all singing and all dancing (hence the "Professional" on the box), it's a bit pants. When I had used it previously I commented on the colour balance compared to other films, but the tutor protested that Fuji gives much truer colour than the brown and blue heavy Kodaks (which is why sunsets (and tanned people) look good on Kodak film).

However, on seeing parts of the Bosphorus reduced to Bognor in February, the tutor backpedalled a bit. Backpedalled as in denounced the Fuji as not at all what she expected or was used to, and as being "a bit shit" (hurrah, I can blame the dismal Goodwood set on the materials).

[For a comparison of the palette imbalance between the two click the following films: Fuji, Agfa]

She carries on being shocked by the anaemic Fuji, and then remembers that she's supposed be teaching us stuff. So then it's on to my other film. The complete randoms one.

I lay them out. I try commenting on them, and realise I'm simply pointing out mistakes and things which could be better. Once again rapid focussing comes up. The comments. The guy likes the girl giving me evils (his words, and tutor didn't understand the phrase, which makes her suddenly wonder if it's just specific to a narrow age range, although I'm not sure how old the tutor is, and I would have said there wasn't much difference between her and the guy). He likes the lamppost mirroring her thin black pillar. He also liked this shot, although he then managed to describe her hair as like rubber and say she looked like the dog.

The Dutch girl seemed to like this woman, but I didn't hear why.

He seemed quite popular, but it might just be because I've got him in focus.

The tutor liked him, and started talking about Buddhist monks (only to get confused by the Dutch girl's pronunciation of Shaolin. I stay out of it, not quite knowing what it is that defines Shaolin from other branches of Buddhism). The picture is very different from what I expected, simply because he blinked. She liked him as well because there's "character".

He was pounced upon when I first laid out the pictures, but nobody gives a reason for liking it.

These two got contrasted for the different reactions - one relaxed enough to be silly, the other just about managing civility.

The Dutch girl calls him a fisherman, and the others agree (am I to take it from the fact they were discussing the person not the image that the image isn't that bad [nor that great]?). Why is it that we all have such uniform reactions to people? Most of what I've written in the descriptions on Flickr got repeated by people without any prompting from me.

Most of the time I've been laying out pictures, one of the older set of students has been hovering nearby (I can't figure him out, but there's something odd in the way he reacts to different people. Maybe it's just me). He snorts when I lay down this image. I'm not sure why. It might be the poor composition. It might be the clichéd picture of a photographer. It might be the gaping blouse over the clashing top.

Oh, and some like this shot, and some don't. I do. Yes, there's certain reticence to her, but there's also curiosity (and possibly amusement).

And that's an awful lot of hims and [less] hers, but I was trying to present them as they were presented to the group, heightening (maybe) the sense of unilateral thought by not prompting you with my opinions. I'm not very good at this.

Why the sexual inequality? Because: A. More women wear sunglasses than men, and what's the point of photographing people without their eyes? B. Women see the camera earlier. They frown, they hunch up, they cross the street, or go into shops to escape. C. Women go shopping. Men get taken shopping. Men end up hanging around outside shops, while the women are inside hoping they can get into a 12. D. Young women, or those who still consider themselves young, think there is something a little perverse in a male with a camera taking photographs of young female strangers. Everyone else seems to find it a little odd, but what the hey...

Anyway, the tutor comments on the different reactions, or lack thereof, shown in the faces. She asks want I said to people, if I said anything. I tell her. She asks what I talked to them about. I struggle to reply, due to not really bothering to talk for the most part (I've just asked them waste some of their time by staying in front of my lens. Do you think I'm going to inflict strained discussion on top of that? If I did, I wouldn't have got half the shots).

Somewhere along the line I protest I can talk to people (yes, I said "I can't talk to to people". We're not going to analyse the logic of that statement now). The tutor calls me a typical male for my inability to do smalltalk. But then is surprised to discover that no-one said no (I told you; it's the hold-the-canoe vibe).

Then suddenly we've moved onto people giving reactions one doesn't expect. The tutor slips into some Once-upon-a-time tale. Basically she found herself at London Bridge Station with no money or phone (no idea who, when, why. No idea if this tale predates common mobile phones). Realising this might be a problem, she decided to see if she could borrow it from someone else. She decided to target the people who could easily afford it. She targeted people in Barbours (yes, I was holding my tongue her. Firstly people in Barbours at London Bridge Station? People wearing shagging-in-the-brambles coats in London? Where the most exposed one gets is the quick run from South Ken up to the Albert Hall? (Why is it always a run?) I know I've seen someone in green wellies waiting for the tube at Sloane Square, but still... A. They deserve to be shot for crimes against good taste, and inherent misguided snobbery. B. People in Barbours, lending money? People in Barbours either tend to be incredibly good at retaining money, or they happen to be mortgaged up to the hilt).

Needless to say, although I appear to be saying it, she failed miserably. The nearest she got was talking to one man whose wife then appeared and, astounded he was even entertaining the notion, dragged him off to the sound of "Come along dear!" (said in a voice which gave away our tutor's roots. Only a native can mock another native so well).

Eventually she got desperate and started asking everyone passing. One badly dressed guy, in need of a wash and shave, stopped and gave her £10 when all she was seeking was the cost of a phone call. She wanted details so she could pay him back, he refused.

And yet, if I was careering through London Bridge, I'd be in full London mode, either ignoring everyone else outright, or giving an apologetic look and dodging away (the apologetic look is only reserved for those who aren't forceful, a sort of "Thank you for not being rude, but the answer's still no"). I think the tutor realised as she was telling the tale, that she probably wouldn't stop.

All of which was an interesting and a mildly amusing diversion, but I do wonder just where it connected to photography. Oh, yes people are not what they seem. Well, we know that, but what we want to know is how to take good pictures of them.

And yet the discussion drifted. The other guy gets into easy stereotypes of nationalities. Something to with English people queuing because we're all so polite. I mention we also have sharp elbows. The Dutch girl's switched off, and I'm only half listening. The tutor seems intrigued by the comment about sharp elbows - not the concept, just the words. Where has she been?

Somehow the tutor gets back to her favourite mantra, which roughly paraphrased (as she never seems to have found an easy way of saying it) is "it's not what you take, it's how you take it". And then proceeds to demolish that theory, as it is what you take, but it's also taking it in a new and unusual way.

Then planning for next week. She's realised she made lots of promises about teaching us things, and giving out handouts, but she hasn't yet and the term is running out. When asked what we want to do, the other guy suggests revisiting depth of field, as well as doing composition, something else and filters. The Dutch girl seems to have succumbed to her hayfever, and I vaguely acquiesce. I do ask what other handouts the tutor does, and the tutor thinks I'm joking. How do I explain I came here to learn, and I want to learn more? Either teach me or point me in the right direction.

But the tutor's pointing out time constraints on the proposed theory for next week. What do we want to ditch? I reply depth of field, on the grounds that we've done it. I then check that's ok with other people, as I can see the tutor watching with amusement as this corner-lurker suddenly takes control. Sharp verbal elbows, or the conversational version of M25 driving; pull out, then thank them.

The tutor suggests there might not be time to do both other topics, and asks me what the group should do about that. I say bring the handouts, and we'll do what we can, and cover the rest at home, and ask questions next time if we need to. A quick flick of the head confirms neither of the other two are objecting.

I know it was a bit abrupt, but as I keep proving, people find it hard to say no. I think the Dutch girl had given everything up as a lost cause anyway, and the other guy I think was just looking for reassurance (and I'm not paying to sit through someone else taking babysteps when I know they can already walk, if not run).

I did check afterwards that he didn't mind, and was quite willing to run through the physics of depth of field with him (when the tutor originally covered it, I could mentally envisage better diagrams than those she used), but he backed off further than I was expecting.

I know I'm manipulative, and surprise people when I am, but it's like my competitive streak - it doesn't show until I think I can win (and then get out of my bloody way). I don't take control until I think something's going to do more harm than good. Revisiting what we already know, and use, is a waste of time, and the time is becoming rapidly scarcer. And for once I'm not going to apologise for having an opinion.

I wonder why some girl, way back when, described me, in particularly charming bit of graffiti, as "a nasty piece of work wrapped up in a wet blanket"? It's not true; she simply misunderstood what I said, and judged me on her theorised motives. And of course what I prophesised, and tried to avert, did come to pass, when she bewailed the lack of warning, and then in explaining the situation pretty much plagiarised what I'd told her (and how come of the nay-sayers, she picked me out?). She knew how to do dignified (said he who just excised most of the insults from that paragraph).

So how many other people have had graffiti written about them? What was it, and why?

Oh, remind me that I've managed to pay the tutor for developing the infrared film, but I haven't had change, but that might be because I was lending the other guy the money for development until the next session, but he declined, and the tutor might not have known he declined, although she'd have to pay for his film anyway, so one of us has to be lending money to him. Just don't let me forget. And I swear I lent the Dutch girl money last week, but I can't remember how much it was. But then I owe Demon Baby one large sheet of BW paper, and the other guy 5 smaller sheets (most of which I still have), and fifteen pence came into it somewhere.

So in summary, never lend me money, and never ask to be lent it, as I invariably forget.


He was pounced upon when I first laid out the pictures, but nobody gives a reason for liking it.

Maybe its because the position of his left finger makes it look like something is sticking out of his pants. Maybe.
I think I can truthfully say that hadn't occurred to me. Still, it's always nice to have someone else's perspective.

And now I'm wondering if anyone else noticed it, even sub-consciously.
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