Saturday, January 11, 2020

Photography is Writing with the Eye

What is this butcher thinking as he stands in the audience at the Smithfield Meat Auction?

I take photos and write.  There are similarities between a photographer capturing an image followed by editing it and a writer who seizes a fleeting thought, commits it to script, and rewrites it for effect.  While I traveled this past month to London, England, and briefly Europe, I was quite aware that when I was moving, I was constantly framing what I saw.  One step too far or a moment too soon before crowds crossed my sightline and I knew that an image would not be what I desired.  Some places were simply so evocative – brightly alive or on the other extreme quite melancholy that they were worthy of a picture.  Others embodied some element of contemplation, humor, or interesting perspective. 

The scope of subject matter for a photographer is infinite and yet limited.  Not everything, place, or person is sufficiently interesting at any precise moment to be worthy of recording, and yet all of these subjects might have merit and potential.  Writing is similar, except the author is trying to catch thoughts, gather overheard comments, or collect place and character traits for their descriptive value.

I wrote little during my travels, letting my camera record impressions from which I could later assemble my thoughts and recall what I was noticing.  (I took pictures at Dachau Concentration Camp and later will write a newspaper column about my sobering observations.)  The photos which I chose for this post are the ones among all of the ones that I took that pleased me the most.  Like good writing, they hold the viewer a little longer.  Most of these are not your typical tourist photos. 

Is he envious or curious?

When advertising goes awry...

I was trying to capture the feeling of being in the crowd on Primrose Hill on New Year's Eve while we all waited for the London fireworks to begin at midnight.  The high contrast of the dark crowd against the bright sky gives the photo tension.

The Shard, a new skyscraper located on the south bank of the Thames River, has become an iconic shot.  I liked that this photo captures a little of the nautical history of the area with the rusty chains and gear in the foreground, and although the Shard is out of kilter, it is a striking view.

I counted seventeen building cranes on the skyline of London from one location.  My daughter began teasing me about my crane photos.  I liked the novelty of this shot with the mudhen seeming to eye and avoid the wonky crane reflections in the canal water.

This is one of my best photos exemplifying how timing is so critical. Even though the train was beginning to slow as it pulled into the London Train Station, moments later the angles would no longer have converged with the base of the Shard.  I think the photo conveys the excitement of train travel, of arrival.

Ah, this is another example of timing and place.  I took this photo on one of my first days in London. I was riding on the top of a double-decker bus when I looked down and saw this marvelous building reflected in the roof and the windshield of a car.    

Bike Rack?  Antiquities themed?  Is this some city planner's joke?

This skate buddy on an icerink in Salzburg exhuded an impression of longing and hope.  I noticed him because of his charm, but I had to wait a moment until the ice all around him was clear of skaters  to get this shot.  I'm not sure that I would have gotten the chance again.    

I love this photo for its varied textures and the restaurant sign on an obviously empty building, but mostly I love this for the pop of color.  It just makes me smile.

Although I am a member of Audubon and have many opportunities to take photos of birds, I am relatively awful at the task.  I include this swan both because of its nice shape, but also because of the color of water.  The swan was in a pond on Hampstead Heath.  There were others near by, but I managed to isolate this one for a moment.
And for a selfie, how about this one taken in front of a shop window with a neon light documenting my location?

Off to writing now...

Dead Slow Please Children

I knew that I would be missing London, England, when the customs officer at Heathrow Airport waved me onward to my flight’s boarding area saying, “You can go on through, lovie.” No one at home will call me “lovie.”  Nor will I see any signs that say Dead Slow Please Children.  Americans and Brits share the same language, but I am always amused at the diversions in word choice.

The sign saying Dead Slow Please Children was at the end of a long walled driveway in the neighborhood where I was staying in London.  At first glance, I misread the sign as Dead Slow Children (wording that apparently is on some signs); this seemed irreverent, but even returning the word Please to the sign was confusing.  Did the wording mean for the children to please be dead slow as they walked by or were drivers to be dead slow because children were about?  The expression dead slow is a nautical term that according to means “as slow as possible without losing steerage way.”  Dead slow is an odd choice of words, since the cars aren’t on water nor are children capable of walking on water.  Possibly the expression was simply more common in referring to a speed in a nation closely linked to the sea and boating.

Another odd sign was this one.  The phrase made me think that the area’s vehicles were on Valium or had been doing yoga meditation.  Although it might be used to describe speedbumps or street markings in discussions by transportation planning offices in the Britain, as well as the United States, I have never seen it used on a sign in the U.S.  In Britain, it just seems like more of the dry humor for which the country is known.

Bathrooms in Britain are another source of verbal confusion. Many public restrooms are simply labeled with the initials W.C.  My first thought is always that they stand for Winston Churchill, but obviously this is nonsense.  W.C. stands for water closet.  In Britain in the late 1800s, flushing toilets were invented, installed, and named for their flowing water.  They were different than the earth closets, which were the designated areas where human waste that was collected during the night in chamber pots was thrown on the ground.  In America we usually use the term restrooms.  It seems to have come from the advent of large department stores in the early 1900s who carved out women’s bathrooms with small foyers with chairs and mirrors as places to rest a moment before their female customers resumed their shopping. 

The word engaged in England means that a bathroom has someone in it or as the word implies, the individual inside is busy doing something.  This public bathroom near Pudding Lane and the Thames river cost 50p (pence) – another bit of humor.  Although the word that we tend to use for a bathroom here in the States is occupied, that word seems to convey a presence, not an activity.  Curious.    

When I was walking in central London the last week, I passed a man panhandling.  Instead of saying “Got a dime?”, he said, “Spare a coin, m’lady?”  The sweetness of his address struck me as charming.  Obviously at one time in British history, he might have been addressing a real Lady.  The use of m’lady instead of my lady pegs him linguistically as someone of a lower class.  Nevertheless, I appreciated his grace.  I shall miss the quirkiness of British English.  And I will have to wait until I make a return trip to become once again either a lady or a lovie.