GrahamW's blog

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There, But Not There

Every time something amusing happens in our house, whether it be a wacky, shampoo-held hairdo at bath-time or the dog pulls a funny face, my children implore me to grab a camera and preserve the moment for…well that’s my point. For what?
This reflexive urge to photograph every passing event and nebulous circumstance means that, as a household, we now own 9 cameras in various incarnations. We photograph anything from the children’s latest Lego creations (preserved perversely I believe, much against their natural transitory state) to, bizarrely, pencil and felt-pen drawings they’re currently proud of. It’s as if something must be photographed and uploaded to gain validation.
I’m no Luddite, yearning for the days of sepia and Daguerrotypes but I look through photographs from my childhood in the 1970’s and ‘80’s and can see that each picture represents an event that held value in its preservation.
Of course, there are myriad advantages to the accessibility of photography today. I’m grateful that I can email digital photos to family and friends.
I don’t have to go to a chemist or wait for prints to arrive in the post and I don’t have to worry that the genuine magic moments will be missed.
Someone will always have a camera.

One photograph I still look at with wonder shows the end of a Christmas party in 1978. Numerous members of my extended family all strained inwards, ensuring at least their faces were included in a huge group shot that encompassed everyone from my great-grandparents (sitting at the back, frothy ale in hand) to my 2 year old sister (teary-eyed and tired, sitting on the floor at the front).

So much is happening in this photograph, so many lives are shown, some since ended; a record of relationships and interconnections are represented, and it leaves me emotionally worn out to give them too much thought. I love that photograph and everyone in it.

It wasn’t taken innumerable times on different peoples’ mobile phones and digital cameras. It could never have been re-sat, re-touched, shared on a social networking website or ‘tagged’ with everyone’s names. There is only one copy. My mother had it in a shoebox until the year 2000 when she died.

Now I have it, in a shoebox.

Tip for the day: Reduce, reuse, recycle: Disney style

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It started with George Holliday. He pointed his video camera towards the police officers using unreasonable force against Rodney King, started a riot and handed us a tool that is more useful today than Mr. Holliday could ever have known.

On 1st January 2009, in California, Oscar Grant was shot by a transport police officer that believed he had discharged a taser rather than his firearm. Passengers with mobile phone cameras recorded the entire incident, uploaded the content, and reports suggested that certain sites were getting viewing figures of thousands per hour.

Ian Tomlinson is now a name that is sure to haunt the Metropolitan Police as deeply as Jean Charles De Menezes. Although the case is being investigated as we speak and this writer has no desire to attract legal attention, no one can avoid a shudder when viewing the conduct of those officers. The fact we can view it is thanks, not to CCTV, but to a passing fund manager with a camera and the Guardian website.

In 1991, when the King beating lit the flames beneath Los Angeles, 3 towns in the UK had public area CCTV surveillance systems. Today, estimates are between 350 and 800 such schemes. Strangely, exact figures are somewhat difficult to obtain. The ubiquity of surveillance and the various arguments for and against them have consumed column inches and air time since the first cameras were switched on, and to pull this debate out into the spotlight again would be redundant.

What is now becoming apparent is that our revulsion and indignation at being continually observed and recorded is now being tempered by the technologically-aided swing of power in our direction. We are watching the watchers ourselves.

Tip for the day: Is your neighbourhood hot or not?

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The Rules

Who made the rules? For those among us who want a harm-free, mutually beneficial, socially reciprocal life there is a list of rules; unwritten, mostly reached by tacit, mutual agreement and wholly based on general decency. Rarely are these rules dictated by governments, religious groups or corporate entities. Their rules are top-down, predominantly self-serving, with the occasional cursory nod towards “security” or “health”. They rarely do much to improve anyone’s wellbeing or happiness and in many cases, just make things worse.

The only rules that count are our collective ones; borne of plain common sense and a desire to be treated fairly. To those with a healthy sense of altruism and a strong, unselfish streak it’s redundant to cite examples of the rules, but for anyone who needs a little nudge here are some to get you started:

Don’t swear if there are children within earshot, don’t play music loudly late at night, do say please and thank you, be polite to restaurant/café staff, look after your front garden, return things you borrow, don’t push in when queuing, put things back where you found them.

I firmly believe that most people are generally decent and are well aware of this set of rules encoded in our brains. We don’t need to be told what to do. Left to rely on our own sense of fair-play we rarely transgress and seldom inflict anything above mild irritation on our fellow humans.

Tip for the day: Warrington Cycle Campaign have an excellent series of photographs showing innovative facilities for cyclists. This one from October 2008 is one of my favourites.

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