Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The twilight world of Cheapcam, who is,as always, upstaged.

Cheapcam has a somewhat morose character, I've decided. Perhaps it's because she spends most of her life stuffed in the bottom of my bag, under a foldaway shopper and a pile of discarded till receipts, getting poked by the car keys and squashed by the dog lead, rarely taken out and only downloaded every couple of months. Or perhaps it's because she only cost 50 euros from Amazon France when I googled 'cheapest camera' in a moment of desperation when the Powershot was indisposed, and although she may rather pathetically flaunt having as many megapixels as the latter, she and I both know that no one buys into the megapixel myth any more. When it comes down to it, her anti-shake is shakey, her macro-setting only really works when shooting on a level plane, otherwise it stubbornly focuses on the background not the near object, she gets all finicky about not enough light, her zoom is puny and her autofocussing lumberingly slow. Her date setting has a peculiar habit of sliding back a year or two, so the folders disappear when I'm looking for them on Picasa, which logs things in chronological order, because Cheapcam has decided she wants to go back to 2006 (perhaps that was when she was happy, back in the factory with the other cheapcams...). And more often than not her pictures have a murky grey-blue cast that seems to confirm her generally lugubrious outlook on life.

And yet, as the above shows, I have attributed a deal more personality and feeling to her than to the better camera; she appears to have moods and capriciousness, leading often to frustration but occasionally delight. She turned on the charm for these hydrangeas, which I think are quite enhanced by the smudgy blue aura (no editing used at all).



and in fact I quite like it that so many of the pictures are so bad that much of what to discard is decided immediately, and with what's left I'm often forced to be creative with cropping and editing to make something out of them.

She came out to play with Molly and me in the carpark of the old barracks in St Brieuc the other day, a somewhat grubby and gloomy spot on an overcast day where she was presumably quite in her element.


I hesitated about picking up the Canon as I left the house, but figured that probably by the time I'd slaved over a hot photocopier for as long as it took to provide the heroic Rosie/Gillian with enough work for my classes to occupy them well into next year, never mind the five lessons she's actually taking them for, I wouldn't have much time or energy for a photo-stroll. However, when I got back to the car, Molly informed me in no uncertain terms that she hadn't come all this way to sit in the car and go home again, and that a town car park full of plane tree leaves and offered sniffs and smells beyond all the perfumes of Arabia.

The old barracks is a somewhat forbidding and sombre place, as you might expect, but one section of it seems to have been commandeered to house a music school and other arts educational resources. We watched a harpist unloading her instrument from her car, then wandered around the back of the building, where emaciated buddleia and other weeds colonise neglected angles and rough surfaces,

a modern fire escape, a peremptory afterthought, hangs off the wall like a giant piece of peeling swarf,

yet on further looking offers further interesting patterns and shapes,

and barred windows reveal strange sights.



I sometimes feel I have exhausted the possibilities of the rural corner where I live, in all its budding, leafing, cropping, fruiting, shedding, decaying predictability, its quaintness, bucolic fuzzy livestock, macro-shot vegetation, wide cropped landscapes; I fear I've done it all to death, can't squeeze any more out of it, in spite of myself, boredom threatens, a creeping, contemptuous familiarity. It isn't so, always again something catches, draws the eye and the thought, 'there lives the dearest freshness'... But at those times, I hanker for urban variety, not bright lights or night life or shopping, you understand, just a different visual idiom and stimulus, or even just another context.

So, there I was, relishing urban dereliction, nature imposing on the structures and creeping into the cracks, the accretion of a history not fully understood, the pleasant shock of my own ignorance of exactly what I was seeing, poking the little camera into odd corners, when I heard young laughter and cat calls. I assumed I'd been spied, caught out, and someone was mocking my eccentricity, and looked up to see that, in fact, someone else was playing another version of the same game. Two pretty young women were hanging out of a window a couple of floors up, oblivious to me, Molly or Cheapcam grubbing about below, and pointing a very handsome SLR at the roof of another building opposite where a solitary painter and decorator was clambering on a roofing ladder, his white-overalled bottom in the air. He ignored their attempts to attract his attention and make him look over his shoulder in surprise or amusement into the telephoto eye of the camera. When he finally did turn around and sit securely down, and saw not only his watchers in the window with the sleek black SLR but also me on the ground with the small silver point-and-shoot, laughing at them giggling at him, he fixed us with such a stony, unimpressed, baleful glare, that we all quite quickly withdrew in embarrassment. As I drove off, he was still sitting on the slates, gravely lighting up a cigarette, looking as though such frivolities were altogether a tiresome thing for a man with a real job to do.


(In view of my feelings about photographing unwilling subjects, I probably shouldn't really be posting this one, but I daresay there's a much better one somewhere on some St Brieuc art student's Myspace blog, so what the hell... )

19 comments:

Jean said...

You're such a great story teller!

Plutarch said...

No apology required on behalf of cheapcam or the photographer. Both should be pleased with this collection. The absence of clarity can be an advantage sometimes. The hydrangers prove it. I've been thinking about photographing people unawares. This afternoon I failed to photograph someone dressed in black sitting on a log on the Common and reading a book. I am now regretting the omission.

Granny J said...

My own version of Cheapcam goes along on major expeditions, when I worry that I've insufficient battery backup or that other problems might crop up. Your little lady performed admirably. You've some great pictures there. As for running out of subjects -- I always fear it will happen, but as a rule, there will be a new sight if one just looks a bit.

herhimnbryn said...

Dear cheapcam grand job!
Dear L, ditto. Such a lovely story and I reckon the chap on the roof is, in fact Jean Reno!

marja-leena said...

Great photos and story, Lucy. It's the eye behind that camera that finds the interesting. LOVE the hydrangea petals!

Jan said...

What a superb collection!
And so varied.
Im sure you (with your imaginative+perceptive eye) will always find NEW stuff in SAME places...
I suppose it's a bit like the writer who always writes about things "close to home" and constantly presents tiny details in fascinating ways..

Julia said...

French graffiti! I have to say, that is a lovely pic, despite its cheapcam origins. Also, I quite liked its contrast with the downspout and upsprouting flower.

apprentice said...

This is a lovely photo essay Lucy. And I agree about fallen leaves, dogs seem to find them them endless facinating.

I also worry about snapping people in the street. Sometimes I make vague gestures to see if they mind - other times I sneak shots and then feel very guilty. There was a great art house film about suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge - and in it one photographer admitted that he had to hit himself on the head before he could stop shooting one guy on the brink of jumping, put his camera aside and go and talk to the poor soul down. I fear a demon sits on our shoulder at times whispering about angles and light and shape and form.

Barrett Bonden said...

It is clear that cheapcam occupies a profound recess in your psyche. All that anthropomorphism!

And here's another aspect: your tendency towards subversion. When the French do bad modern architecture (I'm thinking of industrial estates near Rennes and north of Redon) they are in a class of their own. Terrible. Viewed without the benefit of cossetting cheapcam that spiral staircase would be a typical example - part of a hideous industrial process rather something for humans. Yet you've turned it into something austere and striking. Lead into gold. But it doesn't deserve that transformation and the French should not be ameliorated in this way. Subversive, I say.

Zephyr said...

Delightful post!

Dick said...

What Canon do you have, Lucy, that takes these wonderful pictures (with your help, of course)?

Lucy said...

Thanks all, (Cheapcam manages a wan smile...).

HHB - ah, you may be right, and JR is in fact moonlighting as a grumpy artisan in St Brieuc...

BB - it is a truly ugly fire escape isn't it!

Dick - mostly I use a Canon Powershot S3IS; it's a couple of years old, so I'm not sure what the model would be now. It's a 'bridge',so more versatile than a compact with a bigger zoom but with no facility to change lenses, though you can get some special filters, which I haven't, apart from a UV one to protect the lense. But Cheapcam is a little thing called an AIRIS DC60, not a well known make!

Dick said...

When I started taking photographs seriously back in the '70s, the elderly teacher who took me through the dark room processes always used to say, "When it comes to taking them, it's the singer not the song that counts". So clearly the case here, Lucy, whether with cheapcam or Canon.

Zhoen said...

Good thing Molly had the sense to take you for a walk.

Isabelle said...

You have such a good eye, Lucy. And Cheapcam did pretty well too.

meggie said...

As usual, loved this post!

Lucas said...

I have to agree with the decision to post the photo of the roof worker. Street photogaphy and unusual angles make this collection a delightful experience to view. I think also the commentary of decisions and encounters sums up a day in the life of the eye and the lens.

Linda S. Socha said...

You are really wonderful with words and the photos are great. Thank you
Linda

Crafty Green Poet said...

what wonderful photos, love the htydrangeas and yes i can certainly see the appeal of urban dereliction as subject for photography...