A few years ago a good chunk of my holiday photos might have been scenes to show other people I’d been somewhere worth photographing. I may have pushed my mates in front of wherever it was to show other people that I did in fact have friends too. One of them would most likely swap places with me so I’d get me and the show off scene to really hammer it home. But most of my snaps were of a funny leaf or a bit of wall I liked or a great floor tile.
My mum took me on a coach tour of Italian cities and she would gasp and gush about the stain glass windows in every church then tut and puff at me always bent downwards. ‘Don’t you ever look up? You’re missing all the art!’ ‘Yeah yeah wings and haloes got it… Get your bloody beige sandals out my shot.’ It may have been that holiday where I decided to buy postcards of the grand vistas and save my film for the finery underfoot.
My grand vista attempts were pretty naff anyway – a bit like comparing a fuzzy dot to a professional telescopic full moon shot. There was a freedom to realising my photography limits – I remember giggling at the other tourists on a Greek ferry snapping away at one historically significant land mass or another after every ‘And to your left…’ announcement. I noticed how as a flock they’d coo, lift the camera, click, then immediately look away – satisfied. I remember leaning back on my bench and enjoying the view even if I can’t remember exactly where I was now – I do remember feeling calm and that I couldn’t care less that I’d not have a picture to show someone else. I also knew I’d not recall what it was if I did, ‘Oh this is an island… that’s… I can’t remember… Oh here’s another one a bit further away.’ I may or may not have taken a wee snap of the bench slats.
With camera phones nowadays it’s worth a quick thumb flurry before slipping it back in my pocket. It doesn’t feel like putting up a barrier between me and the experience so much, and I can see if I got anything good later in the day and delete the duds. Or edit them. Maybe hone in on a good bit of basket. I don’t fret about showing them to anyone but then I can rely on James to get the good shots.
The pictures I treasure are my kids’ sandy feet or a little nose peeking out from a towel burrito – the fleeting moments. All four are huge now and I’m not allowed to take photos of anything. Even when they were little my pics would likely be of their backs, them running off somewhere or engrossed in something I didn’t want to disturb. I’m still a bit of a ninja snapper when out on walks with friends – muddy wellies next to the delicate bluebells or the pleasing contrast of double-diagonal bag straps against the new bridge planks as the two tall ones in complimenting warm tones stride ahead. That is if I’m not distracted by a tree hole or frosted spiderweb.
So I’ll never make it as a landscape or portrait photographer but one day I may invite you to an exhibition of my best work: The Back of People’s Heads, a Nice Buckle and the Floor – a retrospective of background engagement.