My first ever ‘proper’ camera was for my 18th birthday. (At this point, I can hear my teenage offspring pipe in with ‘they had CAMERAS when you were 18.’ Still…. moving swiftly on). My 18th birthday present was an SLR camera, it was black, it was heavy and I thought it was an utterly pointless 18th birthday present.
Yes, I have been and still can be an ungrateful bitch.
So on my 18th birthday, I snapped away until the button could no longer be pressed and took the film to Underwoods the Chemist in Victoria. Using a bewitching form of alchemy, they turned the metal canister of film into actual photographs that they then presented to me in a green and yellow envelope, in the process, they charged an exorbitant amount of money (photographs/process… see what I did there?… no… ok). And so, from henceforth, the camera came out only on special occasions and gathered dust for the rest of the year.
Snap forward, if you will, a few years and I started to go on holidays. I took photographs of hills, mountains, the sea, rivers, friends and the odd flower or two. Oh, and my boyfriend; the ubiquitous selfie with camera balancing precariously on a rock, a table stacked with books, magazines, glasses cases to get to the right height or the car roof with a judicious use of the timer.
I’d then have Boots process the film (Underwoods closed down; I just wanted to show off my age and memory for triviality here) and on visits back to my parents’, I’d show them the holiday snaps and my father would flick through very very quickly and declare that there were not nearly enough photos of people. “Why do I want to see pictures of mountains and lakes, it looks like every other mountain and lake. Take pictures of people”. He sort of, kind of, had a point. But still, I stopped showing him the holiday snaps.
And then I had children. And I took photo after photo after photo. They were the most photogenic babies you’ve ever seen. Actually, if I’m honest, my newborn daughter had an interesting look going on first thing. After an extraordinarily difficult labour, I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Then when the photos came back, I realised that, my God she’d looked Fugly). Still… her head popped back into ummm, a head shape and she, quite simply, gets more beautiful every day, every week, every month… you get the point.
And I’m managing, once again, to get away from my point.
So, the kids grew older, they stopped spending their days in a thankfully vain attempt to damage themselves beyond repair and they eventually worked out that mum was constantly taking photos of them and that they weren’t too sure that they liked it that much. But the bug had bitten me. I loved taking photos. Husband bought me a better camera and a zoom lens and I was off.
I took photographs of doorknobs, I took photographs of patterns made by mesh, by doors, by window frames, buildings, paving stones, mosaics, pillars, columns, clouds, flowers. When you’ve got three kids to keep entertained, it’s important to find order in chaos and I suspect that this was what I was doing. And I think I was doing it pretty damned well.
And then we found little cameras for the children and we would go on ‘mummy adventures’, grabbing a cab into London and becoming tourists and they would snap away. Because you can never see all of London and you can never capture it all on camera. Columbia Market, Borough Market, Houses of Parliament, Smithfields, SouthBank, Soho, Covent Garden, St Catherine’s Dock, Seven Dials, Hyde Park, Regents Park, St James’ Park, Green Park, Barbican, Tower Bridge, Hungerford Bridge and all between. I’d tire us all out and there wouldn’t be moment of complaint of sore feet and we’d stop for a frozen yoghurt or a hot chocolate (seasonal choices, but way more random than that if I’m honest). A Pizza Express pizza, or for a special treat, some dim sum in Soho where you can eat the fluffiest cloud bun ever (also known as a char sui bu). And after lunch we’d keep going.
I taught them to look for beauty in buildings, and patterns in the everyday. I told them to look above the gaudy shop fronts, to see their London through the ages – the old shop signs left long after the shop had left the building. The intricate details of stone-carving. Warehouse buildings now cafes and boutique shops. And how moving your own body to different angles, you can get to see things from different angles that then, in turn photograph interesting angles. And they listened and they would stop in a street and look around and take a photo of something that you hadn’t noticed before and suddenly you’ll see an intricate chimney pot, or a detail on a window sill that could only have been created by a highly skilled craftsman many many years ago.
These 9 images in a box are just some of the many photographs we took on our adventure days into town. (Although I think top right is from our weekend away to Manchester). And I know that at least 7 of them were taken by my children when they were about this age….
So, if you’re looking for a day out, just grab any old cameras or phones, take the kids and get them to look up…. just so long as they’re not standing in the middle of a road. Because then we’re back to that whole “attempting to damage themselves beyond repair.” and you should be past that stage by the time they’re into this sort of thing.
Or, you can always leave them at home, and take a wander around your home town and get to know it just a little bit better. You’ll be surprised at what you’ve missed.
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