Remember to photo the ordinary things

This is great advice:

Wallsend in 1963 by Colin Jones. If you are a young photographer who is just starting out remember to photograph the ordinary things in life, eventually time will make them extraordinary.

Got this from my Twitter feed. Twitter is not only bile and stupidity. It depends who you are following. I follow some photoers. That they typically have different political opinions to me is, for me, a feature rather than a bug, because I see into other political minds.

Happy Birthday Dear GodDaughter2!

Happy Birthday is the worse song there is, because you only ever hear it sung by people who would never, never otherwise attempt choral singing. But this song, they do attempt, with a combination of extreme shitness and the excruciating embarrassment that comes with everyone knowing that they are perpetrating extreme shitness upon one another. This ghastly song reaches its nadir of ghastliness with that high note towards the end: Happy Birthday dear … whoever. Ghastly. Totally, totally ghastly. I have never heard Happy Birthday not sung ghastlily.

And then came last night. Last night I attended GodDaughter2’s birthday party, here. GodDaughter2 is studying how to sing, at the Royal College of Music, and so were the majority of those also present at the party. Oh, there were some civilians present, but the heart of it was singers. So there I was just sitting there, spouting rubbish to some poor defenceless singer, who had to listen to me because I am GodDaughter2’s Godfather, when, guess what: Happy Birthday starts up, behind me. I do not turn to look, thank goodness, because I am a very poor judge of singing when I am looking at it being sung. I just listen. And as soon as it gets under way, I realise that, for once, the Happy Birthday bit at the end is going to be sung not just non-shittily, but actually well, really well. So I don’t just enjoy that bit when it finally arrives, I am able to relish beforehand how good it was going to be. It was the opposite, in other words, of how Happy Birthday usually happens, when all present know beforehand how shit it will be, especially the last bit. and then have to listen to how shit that last bit especially duly is.

So Happy Birthday last night was … well, St Matthew Passion, eat your heart out. It was glorious. The high note was nailed to perfection by all who attempted it, and there were also harmonies. And I did not see this coming. I had forgotten all about Happy Birthday. It all happened in a rush. And when something that is usually ghastly is instead glorious, the glory is at least twice as glorious.

The entire party was, so far as I could judge after one champagne and two pints of lager (to get how that would be for you, multiply by three – I have a low alcohol threshold): really good. But even if the only thing about it that was good had been Happy Birthday, it would still have been great to have been there.

On how we love animals (except when we love how they taste)

While in France, I read the whole of The Square and the Tower, and then embarked upon The Ape that Understood the Universe.

In the latter book, the matter of how humans get all sentimental about animals is mentioned (pp. 59-60):

… Why do so many people take such delight in string at infant members of other species? It’s not as if, say, porcupines enjoy staring at baby chickens. As with porn, our love of these nonhuman animals is probably not an adaptation. More than likely, it’s spillover from psychological mechanisms designed for more human-centered purposes. There’s a certain cluster of traits that people everywhere find irresistibly cute. This includes big round eyes in the center of the face, a small nose, and plump, stubby limbs. Our affection for creatures with these features presumably evolved to motivate us to care for our own infants and toddlers. But the same features are found in many other infant mammals, and even in the adult members of some nonhuman species. As a result, we often feel affectionate and protective toward these individuals as well – not because it’s adaptive, but just because adaptations aren’t perfect. By the way, as you might already have
noticed, the spill over hypothesis doesn’t just explain our fondness for cute animal videos. It also hints at an explanation for a much older and more pervasive phenomenon: our habit of keeping pets.

Motivated I am sure by exactly this sort of fondness for animals myself, I have become more and more intrigued by this general human propensity. Which is why so many of my photos involve non-human creatures of one sort or another.

Here are some of the non-human creatures photos I photoed while in France recently:

Even the photos involving signs urging dog owners to clear up canine crap (photos 12, 14 and 17) are about our positive feelings towards animals, because the offending dogs are pets. And even the two plastic barrier things (photo 16) are “other creatures”, in the sense that we insist on seeing the faces of creatures where there are none, even though these particular non-creatures each have only one eye. Yes, we do love these creatures.

And yet, by way of a corrective, we also do these kinds of things to particularly tasty creatures, in this case to various mammals and to fishes:

Yum.

Possible interruptions of service

For the next week or so I will enthusiastically be doing something else, which means that there may be interruptions to blogging here. The something-each-day rule may be set aside. It may not be. But, it may be. Since I have been sticking up something here every day since I can’t remember when, I thought it necessary to say, just in case my regular readers start suspecting that I have died and am being devoured by my cats. This will not be the case, not least because I have no cats. I will be alive, but otherwise occupied.

More trees (including the shadow of a tree)

This time trees of the regular sort, some even with leaves, in the vicinity of the Tate Gallery, the ancient one that’s a walk away from my home:

Lots of pollarding.

The last photo, with the tree shadow, is of the outside of the Tate Gallery itself.

Shadows are interesting for many reasons, one being that the camera registers them so much more clearly than the eye does. When a human looks at a scene, he/she makes a model of it inside his/her head. Eyes move about restlessly to build the model. Shadows are irrelevant for most purposes, so get screened out, so to speak. But when a camera looks at a shadow, it sees it and registers it. It’s eye stays in one place and looks just the once. If there is a shadow, the shadow remains. When the human looks at the photo, he/she can’t then look past it, to the scene itself. There is only the photo to be seen`dxz9

One of the skills of photography is learning to see things as a camera does, so that you can see photos worth photoing, which you would not see if you were merely looking the way a human does.

Different animals getting along with each other

My computer is misbehaving, added to which I have been busy doing other things. So just a couple of tweets for today, both concerning one of the things the internet really likes, namely: different brands of animals being nice to each other.

A monkey caresses some puppies. Although, a cynical commenter thinks maybe he’s just checking out how much meat they have on them. Fair to say, though, that the monkey looks like he’s doing just what humans, who mostly don’t have in mind to eat puppies, do with puppies.

A human and a dog play a game. The one where you have to remove a wooden piece from a tower, without knocking over the tower. The dog is very good at it. There seems no limit to what dogs will do to keep our attention and gain our approval.

What I’ll be talking about on January 6th at Christian Michel’s

I just sent this blurb to Christian Michel, about the talk I’ll be giving at his place in the New Year:

The function of a bottle opener is relatively uncontroversial. It’s to open bottles! But nearer to the opposite end of the simplicity-to-complexity spectrum is architecture, and especially the sort of large and visible architecture that the most ambitious and showy architects yearn to design and build.

I don’t think that the modernist architect and polemicist Le Corbusier ever wrote about bottle openers, but he famously described the house as a “machine for living in”. But what does “living in” a house mean? A house can surely proclaim meanings, that being one of its functions. It can display a certain attitude to life, evoke an atmosphere and perhaps trigger happy memories of an earlier time. The ideal house communicates, both to those who live in it and to those who see it from outside. It says more things and different things to merely what it does and how its internal mechanisms function. It says what life is all about. A house is surely more than a mere dwelling, and something similar can be said about almost all buildings, certainly about the really good ones.

To the early modernists architectural ornament was a moral issue, a crime. They pointed to such things as grain silos, locomotives and early airplanes, and they said: architecture should be like that! It should be functional and it should look functional, rather than conceal its function behind a pompous public facade. Form should follow function, as a famous modernist slogan had it. (The truth is more that form follows fashion.)

To many Modernists, the whole idea of a functional “style” was a contradiction. It wasn’t a style; it was what happened when you turned your back on style and just let the building be what it is, with no artifice, with no “style”.

Yet now, the functional, er, way of doing architecture is often just as much of a facade for communicating meaning while concealing what goes on behind it as any traditionally ornamented architectural frontage.

There was also the fact that certain other modernist ideas, such as the idea of “going back to first principles” and of being “logical” about design rather than relying on outmoded tradition, lead, especially in the early years of modernism, to many modernist buildings not functioning very well. The “functional style” had a habit of not actually being very functional.

But, as modern architecture has become a tradition of its own, it has become more functional. And more stylish.

Saying all that may not take very long, but there’s plenty more I can say about this stuff, should I need more.

Scene and screen mystery

Also photoed on Christmas Day:

And there it was, a seemingly unattended screen, staring impassively at The Wheel. I took lots of photos, including many close-ups, but nobody identified themselves as being in charge of this thing. Was this some sort of experiment? Was I being photoed myself? Was I not being photoed, but was I supposed to guess, as I did, that I might be being photoed myself?

And look, the screen is broken. Recent?

Sometimes you never find out what you were truly photoing.

Cummings wins it – Parris misses it

When Boris Johnson appointed Dominic Cummings as his behind the scenes shouter-in-chief, I started to hope that things had taken a turn for the better. I continued to fear the worst, but stopped assuming it. After the Cummings appointment, the air was thick with claims that he was a Satanist, but then it all went quiet. Presumably after Cummings had shouted at everyone then mentioning him to stop mentioning him, if they didn’t want to be set upon by Satan. But I didn’t forget. I knew that Cummings was Satanising away, behind the scenes.

So, when a link to this story at the Telegraph showed up on my Twitter feed, I clicked, hoping against hope to be able to read the whole thing. As it turned out, I was only able to read the top few paragraphs, but I got the bit that mattered to me, which was the Dominic Cummings angle:

They were the lifelong Labour voters on whom Jeremy Corbyn was supposed to be able to rely – even if he failed to sell his vision to a new market.

But to Dominic Cummings and Isaac Levido, the masterminds of Boris Johnson’s landslide victory, they became known as “persuasion ones”: a category of voter whose allegiance to Labour had been profoundly shaken by Mr Corbyn’s leadership and his party’s involvement in blocking Brexit.

Ultimately, the identification and targeting of those voters helped cause an electoral upset that shocked even some of the Conservatives’ most senior figures.

The phrase emerged from some of the most intensive use of focus groups and polling ever seen in a UK election …

I’m sure there will soon be much more to read along these lines.

From Matthew Parris (The Tories will win – but with no thanks to the North), on the other hand, there may be a rather thoughtful silence for a while.