Monday, 2 May 2011


It's odd, how some photographs can persist in your mind. Often, I suppose, this is because they are expressive in a way that is personal and goes beyond any analysis. This one is an example: it has pretty much every "fault" a photo can have, and yet it's never far from the surface of my mind. I found myself thinking of it this afternoon, as I crawled around on the shed roof on my knees putting on fresh roofing felt. Perhaps some subliminal, bituminous smell is associated by my anosmic brain with the occasion of its taking.

When the kids were smaller, we used to drive over to Lyme Regis on the Saturday nearest to November 5th, because a large bonfire is lit on the beach next to The Cobb (the curving seawall made famous in the film of The French Lieutenant's Woman) and fireworks are set off, making a spectacular display. There's something magical about being "at the seaside" on a cold November night, and watching a municipal firework display reflected in the sea. There's also something deeply atavistic about being part of a large crowd in festive mood gathered around a huge fire.

The photo above was made using my Olympus Mju II -- a film camera that, in pre-digital days, was often my camera of choice as I settled into the role of "family man". I still have it: it fits in a jeans pocket, has a sweet f/2.8 lens, and delivers results easily good enough for any purpose I could imagine.

I can remember the occasion well. After sitting on the beach in the dark for a bit, we found ourselves a good spot to stand on the promenade, as the crowds began to gather. Just before the fireworks began, I looked away from The Cobb back up the beach, and saw the moon reflected in the sea and another distant bonfire, presumably on the beach at Charmouth. I took out the Mju, braced myself against the promenade rail, and took a literal shot in the dark. The exposure must have been something like two seconds.

I like the way the camera movement has "textured" the beach, and the overall graphical effect of the blurriness. The warm, unreal colours, too, work for me in a way I can't quite put my finger on. On one level, I suspect the scene reminds me of my first holiday without my parents, aged 16, camping with a schoolfriend in a tiny clifftop place on the Norfolk coast called California. We would walk the three miles down into Great Yarmouth, get drunk, and stagger back up the coast to our campsite, sometimes not making it and sleeping on the beach. I seem to remember it all looked a bit like that, warm, fuzzy and distinctly blurred...

N.B. I believe much of California has crumbled into the sea, since, which will give Steely Dan fans pause for thought (check out the lyrics of "My Old School" on the Countdown to Ecstasy album, still my benchmark of excellence, after all these years). I keep meaning to write to Donald Fagen.


Martin H. said...

I really like that first photograph, Mike. I always call mine, 'happy accidents'. You'll forgive me, as I am new to the game.

Mauro said...

It is hard to not like an erratic image. For me the first one is touching, calls for a ride of the eyes, and the second one is full of memories.

Mike C. said...


Part of the bluff of photography which needs regularly calling is the assertion that the photographer intended everything. This is obvious BS (outside of the studio), and part of the joy of photography is the way it can make use of the "accidental". The word "aleatory" is a handy face-saver in this context...


I like the idea of a "ride of the eyes", it says a lot about the nature of visual pleasure.


Tony_C said...

Wow! They had colour photography in those days! I've got a picture I took on my first holiday without the parents, hitching round Holland & Germany with a mate. It's in B&W and it's my mate sitting in Vondel Park wearing his trade-mark Fairisle jumper. Whenever I hear Sticky Fingers I remember the final hitch into Frankfurt, best ever!

Mike C. said...

No, no, Mr. C, you're confused -- the world was definitely monochrome until about the mid-80s. All the evidence points that way.

Amazing coincidence: I had exactly the same hitch-hiking experience, except what I remember is spending the first night in a hedge in a Rotterdam park, totally baffled by the sound of those clicker balls going by that were the fashion that year, but hadn't yet reached England. I also remember some idiotic theory about milk and bananas being a complete diet.