Thursday, 30 April 2015

Oh Well

I have always liked those lines in Fleetwood Mac's 1969 hit Oh Well:
Don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to...
There's nothing quite like asking people for an opinion to get back the answer that you weren't expecting.  So, when asking selected sets of eyes for reactions to my new website, I was rather surprised by the number who replied, in effect, "Yeah, yeah, very nice, great pictures, easy to use, but ...  What's going on with that portrait in the "About" section?  Are you insane??"

Well, I didn't think I was insane.  Quirky, perhaps; a little eccentric, sometimes; annoyingly contrarian, occasionally, even a tiny bit obsessive; but not actually certifiable. I like that picture.  I like the way the Christmas cracker hat might be taken for a Simpsons-ish shock of red hair, or, I concede, an exploding head; I like the way the closed eyes, defocussed face, and rain of lights give an air of ecstatic, meditative repose to one who is quite probably merely asleep or quite drunk.  Though, again, I concede it does have some of the qualities of a death-mask.  It seemed amusingly self-deprecating, yet insightful, to me; a psychological portrait.  Others found it scary or bizarre: a psycho portrait.

The trouble is, like most photographers, I'm a bit short of decent photos of myself.  I do occasionally take "selfies" (as in, arm's length self-portraits), but these always look contrived, and do quite often make me look mad.  I'm not good at pulling expressions on demand, other than a very convincing scowl.  One of the lost but unlamented social graces, I feel, is the acquisition of a ridiculous "camera smile", something my parents' generation had perfected -- say "cheeeese!"  But, really, why have a portrait on a website at all?  I suspect it's a carry-over from that "portrait of the author" slot on a book cover -- a tiny one for the middle-aged, elderly, and troll-like, an enormous one for the young and bankably good-looking.  Who cares what I look like?

My real problem, though, is that I don't look like me.  People who have never met me but who read this blog, for example, will have a picture in their head which probably differs radically from the actual physical manifestation.  Which is fine.  If they like the blog, they probably quite like the look of the person my words conjure up in their head.  Why spoil the illusion?  I have seen pictures of John Humphrys, Sarah Montague, Mishal Husain, and Justin Webb (the BBC Radio 4 "Today" programme presenters) but that's not what any of them really look like!

Cold print is even less predictable than radio.  Who knows what voice -- what timbre, what accent, what inflections -- my words are triggering, right now, in a range of third-party brains?  I might be Stephen Fry, I might be John Lydon.  Appallingly, I might even be Will Self or Russell Brand. As it happens, my actual voice is an unlovely, Estuarine thing.  In the unlikely event that the Idiotic Hat were ever to become a broadcast programme I'd have to insist on an actor reading my words.  I'm thinking Ian McKellen, or possibly Dreda Say Mitchell, who always lifts my heart when she guests on Saturday Review.

Anyway, I'm nothing if not proactively responsive to customer demand, so I have replaced the offending psycho-portrait with this:

It somehow seemed appropriate.  That's not actually me, by the way, in case you were wondering.  I have fewer teeth, and more nose.

Actually, the really big surprise in the reaction to my website was the universal admiration for the idea of a pinboard i.e. a changing selection of pictures presented in a constant shape and number.  Am I really the first person to think of this?  As a way of keeping a webpage fresh with minimal effort it seems fairly obvious.  However, it may be that my enduring legacy to humanity could be this single, simple idea, which quite a few people have declared it their intention to steal.


Graham Dew said...

Well, I felt much more comfortable with the original portrait. Your new avatar seems far more psychotic than the avuncular visage you gave us previously. I too will plunder the pinboard idea, but there are many websites that I visit that have a 'latest' or 'new work' gallery. It's the first place I go, of they don't have a blog. And it is surprising how many people, even big name photographers, have a website that is updated only every couple of years.

Mike C. said...


Don't worry, it's just a bit of fun. As soon as I can find something better, I'll use it. I expect this will turn out to be the most frequently refreshed part of my website...


Anonymous said...

My abiding memory of you was post 6th form when you'd grown your hair and beard and looked not unlike Ian Anderson's red-headed younger brother. If you have any pics from those days, preferably playing your flute, I'd suggest you use one of them.

Alternatively, there is a cartoon generating app on Facebook called Bitstrips and I assume there is an associated website. The first thing you do is build your own avatar and it gives you lots of options and generates surprisingly good and amusing cartoon characters.

Here's one I prepared earlier