Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Sunshine Superman



My Becher-like taxonomical pursuit of the decorative possibilities of barrier-tape and plastic mesh fencing may be beyond the grasp of some readers (not so much "Mysterious Barricades" as "Downright Baffling Obstacles"), but these daily five-finger exercises do at least give me a reason to get off my backside at lunchtime and beat the bounds of the campus.

I don't know whether it's just that I've become a familiar loony, like the alleged sometime professor of Maths who used to wander the place shouting incomprehensible greetings and occasionally dropping his trousers (whatever happened to him, I wonder?), but I rarely attract any attention when I'm about my photographic business.  Today, however, was different.

I was hunkered down inside my favourite telephone booth, squinting at the fresh tape-marks and abrasions in the sunshine, when the door was opened.  I assumed that, by malign coincidence, the only person on campus without a mobile phone wanted to use the pay-phone.  "Sorry," I said, "I'll come out."  "No," the person said, "I just wondered what you were doing?"

Now, I suppose it's possible that, from the outside, it may have looked a bit odd, suspicious even, to see a man squatting down inside a phone booth.  But it takes a certain kind of guileless curiosity, actually to open the kiosk door and ask what's going on.  I must admit I was tempted to play the situation for laughs  -- quite a few obvious turns on telephone booth tropes sprang instantly to mind -- but instead waggled my camera, and said, cheerily, "Taking photographs!"  "But why?  What on earth of?" he said.

This is always a tricky one to negotiate.  I could see he was genuinely baffled, and perhaps even concerned for my sanity.  It's easy to forget, quite how far beyond most people's concept of "normal" any photography is that does not involve close relatives or safely-accredited subjects (sunsets, kittens, porn, etc.).  The beauty of digital cameras, however, is that you can show, not tell.  "Here," I said, "Have a look", and put the camera into "chimping" mode.  I showed him the image below.

I could see he wasn't convinced.  Which was quite disappointing, and even a little insulting, so -- with my best "Good day to you, sir!" expression -- I firmly shut the door and carried on.  There's none so blind as they that will not see.


13 comments:

Huw said...

Last week at our local art gallery I was sternly told by an attendant that I couldn't take pictures. What was I photographing? Not the Renoirs or the Frinks, no . . . the lift doors. (And I checked their policy later to make sure this was allowed.) A similar dissonance may have been occurring.

Huw

Mike C. said...

People have become very suspicious of photography in recent times -- odd, given the level of surveillance by CCTV. Mind you, I am very grateful I never chose "children in the park" as my subject...

Mike

Huw said...

Having small children gives me the freedom to muck about with the camera in a way I'd not be comfortable with otherwise. Very good distractions!

Huw

Struan said...

A lot of people think my 4x5 setup is surveying equipment. I'm tempted to get a set of traffic cones, a hard hat and a high visibility vest. You can do *anything* in that getup and nobody questions you.

I did once have a highly suspicious landowner quiz me deeply as to what I though I was doing surveying his private land. I think I know what made him suspicious: as he left, he pointed to the horizon in a direction perpendicular to where my camera was pointing and harumphed "The sunset's over there!"

Mike, with this post and the last, I see a long retirement bimbling around at Hedge End in your future.

Mike C. said...

Struan,

Funnily enough, I was thinking of getting a hi-viz vest made with "OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPHER" printed on the back, for that very reason.

I'd never come across "bimbling" before -- probably the best available English translation of "dérive". In "our" part of Wales, there's a hill called The Wimble. Now we can go for a bimble on the Wimble!

In my immediate future I have an expenses-paid project in Austria coming up on the back of an exhibition, which is both exciting and terrifying. It's one thing "bimbling" in familiar territory, quite another to parachute in to somewhere very different and hope for results...

Mike

Huw said...

Struan,

The opposite also works: when I'm photographing something I possibly shouldn't I use my iPhone as nobody views it with suspicion.

Huw

Struan said...

I see the OED is looking for clues as to the origin of 'bimble'. I picked it up during a gap year in the marines, immediately post-Falklands. My impression was that it went back before that, but rather like 'yomp' it became more popular during the campaign.

It's almost onomatopoeic, in that people have always grasp what it means. I like the fact that it is a countryside word - bimbling round the wilderness *has* to be ironic, and you can't really bimble in built up areas, although suburban bimbling is allowable.

My advice on the vest is something vaguer, like 'STAFF', 'CREW', or 'BIOHAZARD UNIT'. Something that makes the jobsworths less certain what your paperwork should say.

Huw: I do the same, but if you think about it, that's entirely bass ackwards. It takes me at least six months to get from exposure to scan, and usually much longer. A selfie is halfway round the world garnering likes before sheet film has got its boots on.

You folks might like this: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=11205

Mike C. said...

Struan,

I had no idea you could spend a gap year in the marines... Wasted mine teaching remedial English in a Catholic comprehensive and picking razor blades out of the clay bin.

I think "SANITATION SERVICES" is more my style. Or maybe "L.H.O.O.Q."...

Yes, I saw that "selfie" post on Language Hat (no relation). I like the idea of not being aware you have approached a linguist. Reminds me of a similar anecdote where Richard Avedon is handed a camera in the street in New York and asked to take a couple's portrait...

Mike

Andrew Sharp said...

There's drama in that crazed and scratched perspex, but I've no idea how to begin saying why. I'm particularly drawn to the stress patterns in the lower right quadrant where I'd guess it has been kicked or suffered some other trauma with a blunt instrument, as the TV pathologist invariably reports.

I bet, though of course only figuratively, that the mathematics of them is similar to those of an interference pattern like Newton's Rings.

Mike C. said...

Andy,

A well-battered phone kiosk (you have to get inside) is a reliable source of the sort of systematic randomness I like, especially when there's an arms race between fly-posters and poster-removers.

I haven't seen anyone use any of our campus kiosks as a phone in years.

Mike

Huw said...

Talking of well-battered phone boxes, the first time I visited Southend I saw a man having a fight with a phone box and, I think, losing.

Huw

Struan said...

Andrew, you'd lose the bet. Stress patterns in plastics come about because the stress changes the refractive index. Newton's rings occur when you try to fit light into spaces smaller than the wavelength.

Both are wave phenomena, but one is about matching the physical peaks and troughs of the wave, the other is how the 'inertia' of a material affects the speed the wave travels at.

Sixth formers can analyse Newton's rings. Most undergraduates struggle with the maths and concepts required for stress birefringence.

Andrew Sharp said...

Struan, it's a good job that, unlike Steven Hawking, I'm not a betting man. But thanks for the insight into the physics. At least I'd got it as a wave phenomenon.