Friday, February 07, 2014

Picture this

Eighties style: it's in there somewhere
We live in a world where images have lost some of their power or allure. The fact that most of us carry a camera around with at all times means there are not many things that remain undocumented or shared.

Of course it wasn't always like this (cue Hovis theme tune). When I was younger, cameras were not generally carried around. Unless you saw yourself as a photographer and were always on the lookout for a shot, people only took cameras out on certain occasions: holidays, parties, school trips, weddings, Christmas...

The list is not exhaustive, but the point is that we only tended to document things that we thought were special and required recording for posterity. You can see it in the studied grins and stiffness in many old pictures. You really did pose for pictures. There were only 24 or 36 shots in a reel and you didn't want to waste them by not being camera ready. When the film was eventually finished, which could take months, or even years in some cases, you then had to send off the film and wait for Truprint or whoever to return it 28 days later.

As a result, I find that there are large parts of my life where there aren't many pictures of me. My university years for example. It really wasn't like today were we can shoot off that many pictures of one scene, choose the best one and delete the rest. The few pictures I have are a bit stagy with me and my peers trying to look cool, or wacky, or a combination of the two.

That's why I like this picture, which until last night I didn't know existed. I was browsing Facebook where a band I saw quite a lot in the Eighties, The Very Things, had posted some pictures from back in the day. I was scrolling through them when this one jumped out. That's me in the middle with the rather wavy, Charles I do (I thought I looked like Bono at the time). It was taken from the stage at one of their gigs at ULU in London. I think I must have been about 19 or 20. Standing next to me with his hand making a fin in front of his face, is my friend Andrew.

There are several reasons I like the picture. It captures a time an a place that I remember very fondly. It was my first real taste of independence, living away from home and left to my own devices. I thought I was kind of out there, but looking back on it, I probably had, as David Cameron would put it a normal student experience. There were some high jinks, but in some ways we were fairly innocent, and I think that it comes through in the picture. We weren't particularly cool, although we thought we were. Our pleasures were fairly simple and we had a good time.

In some ways we had it a lot easier than students today. I can't remember there being a whole lot of pressure on me to achieve highly at university. In some ways I wish there had been. College was seen as a bit of a lesson in life, certainly that was a message I carried from my very liberal social studies lecturer at school, but it was a fairly common thought. You could live reasonably well on a student grant (just starting to become means tested as I went to college although I got a full grant for three years), tuition fees were paid, banks were happy to indulge an overdraft if required (some things never change), but you could get housing benefit and claim dole in the summer.

I wonder how many of the people in that picture ended up working in the City or in corporate law or accountancy. Not very many I guess, although most of them are students. Did many of them have a plan? I certainly didn't, and I didn't really have much of a clue either. But by the look of my face in that picture, I was happy enough that night.