Monday, 7 September 2009


It's September, and I've had a good break, if hardly a long one, and as a family we've had a positively astrological run of good fortune during the summer: the partner became a professor, the son got the grades for his chosen university, the daughter got good grades in the five GCSEs which -- against our judgement -- she was made to take a year early, and I'm about to have what promises to be an excellent exhibition. So am I relaxed and happy and refreshed? Far from it. Returning to work is so depressing. And so much good fortune in a row is making me edgy.

It's a truth that we mainly choose to ignore, that holidays are not really good for us. We all invest too much in our precious "time off," and it never really delivers. Face it, two weeks of play in a pair of shorts will not turn an ant into a brown-kneed grasshopper, nor will it much sharpen the edge of the boy Jack's dullness. Just ask Gordon Brown...

In a previous post (A Perfect Dordogne Read) I wrote of reading an Andy McNab thriller on holiday:
"As well as a bracing immersion into a single-minded world of Glocks and gollocks*, its compelling simplicity convinced me that I could sit down when I got home and write a bestseller myself. I would become rich, and then lead a life of my own leisurely choosing ever after. This was actually a more exciting fantasy than the book itself.

Now I come to think of it, such infantile musings are often the stuff of my vacation reveries. After all, the most powerful side-effect of any decent holiday is to cast a strong, unflattering light onto the other 95% of your year. It's a tantalizing glimpse of your "if only" life. I suppose that's why France is full of farmhouses, converted but unoccupied most of the year by British owners who have let such fantasies get the better of them."
On reflection, I realise I may have stumbled across a great truth about my life here. The problem is I can't quite figure it out. Maybe it has something to with the way the two parallel realities -- the workaday reality and the holiday daydream -- might be brought explosively into contact by simply enacting the fantasy. Write the bestseller! Live life as a holiday! Leap tall buildings in a single bound! Why not? Well, because. Or maybe it has something to do with recognising the superior and self-contained nature of one's capacity for daydreaming over one's capacity to "live large"? The "fifty things to do before you die" type of person always strikes me as needy, and never particularly fulfilled. Fulfilled people have usually learned to sit quietly in a room, and rarely go in for bungee jumping (though they might have a quiet smile thinking about it).

I have recently found myself in the odd position of repeatedly explaining why I'm not straining every nerve to travel to Innsbruck on September 11th** and I have found myself reaching for an analogy with the distinction between those who want to be writers, and those who want to write. The former are yearning for a lifestyle and fantasize about huge advances, booksigning tours in the USA, and Booker Prize acceptance speeches; the latter just want to be left to get on with writing their books.

Personally, I am not turned on by the idea of enacting the role of "photographer" or "artist." It is very gratifying indeed that Rupert Larl likes my work enough to give me a show in his gallery, but I'm very happy for the work to speak for itself. Although I can be a dreadful show-off, I'm more of a heckler than a main act, and anyway I'd like to think that the images are way better than anything I could say about them. On the other hand, if planes did fly direct from Southampton to Innsbruck and back every day I think my ego could withstand just a little attention. But they don't, so it'll just have to get by.

But what does turn me on is EVERYTHING about making photographs, from the hunter-gatherer outings where the ecstasy of "getting in the zone" is always within reach, to the exquisite agony of long evenings spent editing and sequencing images. For me, it's all about the process. Yes, of course, the destination is important (whether it be prints or self-made books or now an exhibition) but it's the journey there that matters. Crucially, I have found that making photographs is something I'm able to do, want to do, and do do -- day in, day out, year in, year out. Unlike, say, writing, painting, print-making, playing the guitar or any of the other things I never quite transformed from daydreaming or dabbling into doing.

But the thing about going on holiday is that being away from work and from home means that I also take a break from photography -- beaches and sunsets and mountains and pretty villages are not my thing and, besides, what is more boring for a family than a father who wants to hang out in strange corners with a camera for hours on end? So in order to get to do what I want to do I also have to be back at work, which is a paradox I could do without.

* re. "Glocks and gollocks": I forgot to gloss this in the original post -- a Glock is a popular and euphonious brand of sidearm, and a gollock is the British Army's preferred (Malaysian) term for a machete. Neat, eh? I'm going to monitor the spread of this linguo-meme closely, as it's currently unique on the entire internet!

** The ominousness of the anniversary has only this second struck me, and played no part in my deliberations, honest!


Martin H. said...

Your writing analogy is a good one Mike. I was offered a trip on the tabloids back in the 80s and instinctively knew it wasn't for me.

The trick is to keep doing what you enjoy and do it for yourself, primarily. If others are pleased with what pleases you.....result! Your forthcoming exhibition is a case in point.

Kent Wiley said...

Nice observation about the paradox of going on holiday, Mike. But I do find that moving to an new environment can be invigorating for finding images. Surely you can be permitted some time w/ your camera alone.

Heh, where do I get one of these cool animals-in-a-box?

Mike C. said...

"Heh, where do I get one of these cool animals-in-a-box?"

Kent, it's the only fuss-free way to keep a pet -- shoot the thing and fill it with sawdust. No more mess!

The Victorians pioneered it as an early version of Tamagotchi, but they did have bigger pockets in those days.