The Record

May 23, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

So if records are important, what should be recorded? A picture of Cleopatra's Needle on the Embankment taken soon after it was erected there in 1878 would not be hugely interesting now , although if it included a substantial area of background  that would help. The Needle won't have changed much in the intervening 137 years, although the background probably has. The lack of change means there is less in the picture that is of interest. Much the same could be said of an undeveloped landscape, leaving aside small details.

It is the difference between the Then and the Now which is pictorially important and interesting. Our attention is caught by how much change there has been, not by how similar things were in the past. It follows that if we are to take a record of the present it should be of things that can be expected to change over time and which will express this all important difference. 

Much of present phenomena goes unnoticed. A small example: in the 19th century and perhaps before, it was a common custom when dining in a group of people to invite one of your fellow diners to "take a glass of wine" with you. This was an invitation to stand or perhaps remain seated and to toast one another. It was so common, and indeed commonplace, that it went almost unreported at the time. It was just something which had always happened and that one did as a matter of course. This practice of formal individual toasting across the dinner table is unknown today in Britain, although it survives in Sweden as the custom of "Skal". The only record of it appears in incidental contemporary references.

Although that particular example would be difficult (though not impossible) to capture in a photograph, there are many transitory things of course which can be recorded by the camera. "The state of technology" is an easy one: the passing of sailing ships; the coming of the motor car; early televisions, and so on. Fashion is so pictorial and self-conscious that it is almost self-recording. Big historical events - VE Day is a good example - come to mind also. But what about the small things we don't notice or think about: the colour of the light of street lamps? the present custom of queuing for entry to a night club? the appearance of a furrow ploughed by a horse? pub etiquette? shopping procedures?

These are the things this generation and all those alive today in this country and the rest of the West take for granted. They're the dull things, now. It's only when they're no longer being done that they become interesting. And that's what I want to record.


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