Raw War

Instagram puts our pictures in a box, meaning, a square. When you upload a photo, in a photo-type format, which is usually landscape or portrait, it appears as a square. In a box, a symmetrical box of picture. As if it were simply storing information, “content”, more efficiently, like a cake tin.

No one listens for longer than ten seconds to anything anymore, or will look at something long enough to see the details that the Instagram box leaves out. It puts our pictures in a box. It doesn’t ask us, how about a box for this picture, it would help us a lot of you could make it a box, we like everything to be the same format, despite the fact that a ratio closer to the Golden Section is well known to be more aesthetically pleasing. It does it because it makes no difference. To ask for a large and be handed a small. This is your size.

A box is symmetrical. It’s like a face isn’t. It’s like a painting isn’t. It’s like the dimensions of anything made by nature, prior to the long awaited arrival of the human race, isn’t. We learnt about the Golden Section from nature, and therefore, by implication, from ourselves. Our hidden selves. Our non-symmetrical gut feeling once told us that one long side and one short side is good, look at a tree, look at that animal, the ratio of head to body, look at my head and body for that matter. Animals do not have, broadly speaking, a head at each end.

Numbers are good for symmetry, a human tool for counting things. You can play games with numbers and symmetry comes out. They are not, however, good for the blues, which often is twelve bars long, and at other times is as long as the person singing the thing wants it to be. If you listen for longer than ten seconds to a blues track on YouTube you will hear this in action.

Symmetry reminds me of things that are “technically possible” but perhaps undesirable. In theory it could happen, in nature rare that it does.

On a typical week of train journeys, there are more people than there used to be talking loudly to themselves as if no one else was there.

Dance like nobody’s watching. They will only watch for ten seconds so make it quick.

Instagram puts my pictures in a box.

Perhaps I can change the settings.

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An eye for a bargain.

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”  Matthew 7:12, The Bible (King James Version).

Heady words indeed.  Put yourself in their shoes.  And so, with this in mind I have embarked upon an online course in photography.  Part of my daily life has involved the infliction of teaching, the battering of knowledge into poor, defenceless students.  I thought it was about time I had done unto me whatever I was doing unto them.  Obviously as a teacher I can’t afford the three million pounds a week that learning costs these days, so I went for an online offer that knocked 90 percent off.  A whole series of videos for twenty quid.

I have tried this before with golf.  I made the mistake of thinking that a good teacher can turn you into something you weren’t before.  I was not a golfer and, after several weeks and at great cost, I remained lacking in that area.  He was not a great teacher, being a golf professional who had never quite made Ryder Cup status and found himself in a field near Chingford talking about the specific trajectory of the wrists in a golf swing to someone who had no idea where his arms were unless he was looking at them.  I had enough physical coordination to walk and to use opposable thumbs to an intermediate level.  I had no ability and I wanted to know if I could gain some.  I realise now that it was not his to give.

So, back to photography.  I bought a camera some years ago, and have dabbled a bit, picking up bits of information here and there, making lots of mistakes and coming up with the odd good photograph.  I suppose I’m at that stage where every time you learn something, you increase your knowledge by fifty percent; somewhere near the bottom, comfortable, occasionally excited, salivating at equipment I can’t afford that I still believe will take a good photograph for me.  I know enough to have an idea that a photograph is good, and not enough to know that it could be better.  It’s just a bit of fun.

So, full of all of this, I eagerly log on to my first lesson.  A voice says hello, and welcomes me to this course in photography basics.  Straight away, he sounds like he doesn’t want to be there.  He isn’t there, it’s a recording.  But he sounds like he doesn’t even want to be that.  He sounds hungover, irritated at the thought he has to go over the relationship of aperture to shutter speed again.  It’s as if he has to be there every time someone plays this video, he has to struggle out of bed after a night out with his photography friends who already know about the effect of light on a landscape, about the Rule Of Thirds, about a raised hand too close to the lens that distracts and clutters.

This is not irritating at all, just vaguely amusing.  And after a few episodes, I am getting to like this guy; it seems that the longer we spend time together, the more he is warming to me. He understands that I am keen to learn, and that hearing the basic tenets of his craft explained again and again in slightly different ways is hypnotising me into understanding them.  Sometimes he gets into arguments with himself, and starts to bring what seem like like aspects of his life experience into the monologues;

“…it’s all about direction, it’s up and down and left and right and forwards and backwards.  You can’t just look forwards.  Believe you me, I know people in life who only look forwards, never to the right or the left, and especially never behind them.  And it’s unbelievable.”

This is totally irrelevant, and almost completely non sensical, but the message is getting through.  As I type this, I am distracted by the bookmark that says “photo course” in my browser, I can’t wait for the next instalment.  There is a lot of stuff I already know.  But to know it again is to know it better, as if repetition has its place in learning as well as in practice.  And occasionally he will tell me something that changes everything and declutters my brain, something is demystified.  But it’s importance often goes seemingly unnoticed, maybe it’s one sentence in the middle of a rant about light (only a photographer could have a rant about light) or a casual aside about diagonal lines receding into focal points.  But what is happening is that I am starting to trust this guy, or the voice of this guy, whose name I can’t remember.  I can see beyond the gravelly croak of his despondent delivery into the world of his visual imagination.  The surface of a person is such a resilient and persuasive advertisement, it’s catchy and attention grabbing, but the real stuff is underneath.  The real stuff is the number of times he has picked up a camera and done something with it that works, minus the number of times I have done that.  The shortfall is the reason I am persevering with it.  That and the twenty quid.

I think it’s useful to be taught something if one is teaching others.  I think I was looking for some kind of salutary lesson about how difficult it is to learn, how people who teach don’t understand their students and the obstacles that the gaining of knowledge and experience present.  Instead, I realised that as a student, it’s often your engagement with a subject that makes the teaching effective.  You have some ability already, and the teacher brings it out, directs it, sometimes enhances it.  I suppose i knew this already, but to experience it directly is a good lesson.   It’s easy to throw tennis balls at people and blame yourself for the fact that no one catches them.  But they have to jump.  And they might realise that the jumping is the fun bit.  Obviously, there are some people that just aim for the head and throw as hard as possible, in which case the lesson is to duck.

I think I’ve got enough mileage out of that analogy for now, maybe it’s time for a creative writing course.  When I find one I’ll skip to the chapter on endings.

Merry Christmas.