I’m away on holiday at the moment, which means for once I bought a Sunday paper (in this case The Observer). Jon Naughton’s column on the changing nature of photography (phones, snapchat etc..) caught my eye.
It’s an interesting piece in which he links digital behaviours to a demographic. I think this is a common mistake. It’s better to think about behaviours linked to a user need or the network effect of technology adoption. People of a certain age may have a common behaviour, but this is probably linked to a common activity. A classic example of this is the growth of video calling. This is often cross generational, due to parents / grand-parents ‘Skyping’ their children / grand-children.
Naughton quotes Chase Jarvis, “The best camera is the one you have with you”. The article did get me thinking about my relationship with photography. At home we have plenty of devices that take pictures. Our collection includes 1950’s SLRs inherited from my Grandfather, a 10 year old Nikon DSLR and ubiquitous iPhones.
Away on holiday, we’ve brought the DSLR and the smartphones. We use them in different ways at different times. Last night I was sat on the edge of the bay as the sun went down trying to bag a photo of an Otter (I failed). In this scenario, the Nikon is easily the best bet. Emma has also grabbed some great pictures of Buzzards that would be impossible on the iPhone. We’ve also got some great landscape shots with our phones. They are similar, but different tools that come into their own at different times. If you’re interested in photography it’s better to have a few different tools to hand.
The device itself also makes a difference to the subjects, not just the photographer. A week or so ago, when asked to take a few photos at a christening, I used the DSLR. Brandishing the big lens quickly got people lined up around the font. Our two children have no interest in taking photos with a phone, but get a camera out and they turn into Corinne Day.
The idea that new forms of communication through photography (such as Snapchat) are the first time that pictures have been used for communication seems odd. Photography has been more than just holiday snaps for almost 200 years. It’s the disposable nature of communication that is changing. People today rarely save text messages in the way they previously saved letters.
Many pictures are part of this disposable communication culture, but others, like our holiday snaps are some kind of record. For our family at least.
Early morning on Thursday 9th August heading East towards Stratford. Excited. The Olympics are in full swing and this is our chance to get involved at the Olympic Park.
We have just 30 minutes to dash across the park towards the Riverbank Arena in time for push back, we make it, and take our seats as the game begins. Argentina against New Zealand playing off for ninth place doesn’t sound like much of an attraction, but this is the Olympics and the crowd are knowledgable, engrossed and enthusiastic.
The sun beats down and by the start of the second half most of the 15,000 seats are full. The game ebbs and flows, but New Zealand seem stronger and faster and in the end run out 3-1 winners. We break for ice-cream, sun screen and leg stretch before Pakistan and South Korea play off for 7th place. This game is more defensive but still exciting. Pakistan seem more skillful but have a game plan that involves taking minimal risk. In the end they win 3-2. The applause from the crowd is enthusiastic as the players take a lap of honour. Then we file out.
The 15,000 seats and pitch will be modified for the Paralympics and then dismantled and moved to a new location, with a much reduced capacity. The arena is described as temporary. But most sports facilities are in some sense temporary, even if the stands remain they change and evolve - the new Wembley seems to only share a location with the old twin towered stadium. The timeless nature of Lord’s cricket ground is perpetuated by the continuing existence of a single stand, the members only pavilion.
When the game finishes, the crowd leaves and the event is over. Even though the photos live on and the highlights remain on iPlayer, the race, the match, that goal, they only really exist in the moment. The past tense immediately applies.
Yet these events live on in the memory. That morning at the Olympics will live with me forever, the bright pink and blue pitch seared into my fallible cortex.
There’s a folk memory of these events that will also survive, like tales of seeing Bradman bat or queuing to watch Reg Harris win at Herne Hill that are passed down through generations.
The scarcity value of a visit to the Olympics and the esteem that the games are held (in spite of the relentless commercial exploitation), means that even when the Riverbank Arena is dismantled and relocated, the exploits of the athletes will live on. The impact of these Olympics, the imprint on my life of that bright morning in August will be permanent.