Monthly Archives: November 2005

The three lives of a photograph

My Mother, Bridie, in Ireland, in about 1960
My Mother, Bridie, was born in rural County Kilkenny at the end of the twenties. I think this photograph was taken there by my Dad in about 1960, after they were married and on a visit home. So that’s how this photograph’s first life got started, presumably in a little Kodak camera of some sort, in the middle of Ireland.

Dad gave me the photograph, or at least a smaller, more dog-eared version of it, about twenty years ago when I was studying photography at what was then The Polytechnic of Central London. PCL was the first Polytechnic in Britain and had a long history of independence and innovation. Now, of course, it’s called The University of Westminster and it’s just like all the others. I wonder if it’s occurred to anyone to try reversing one of these anonymous ‘Unis’ back into a retro Polytechnic brand? I wonder if they’d be allowed to?).

I started the photograph’s second life when I re-photographed it on a huge, cast iron copy stand at the Polytechnic (using black & white film – probably Pan-F) then developed the film and printed the neg in the college’s amazing darkrooms. I took those darkrooms for granted but they were something special – three or four thousand square feet of red-stained darkness five or six floors above a narrow West End street. There was something relaxing about hours spent in the quiet darkness – the only noise I remember was the tinny sound of the complete soundtrack from Taxi Driver (including the dialogue) coming from Paul‘s darkroom next door.

I’d love to go back for an hour or two. Except, of course, they’re not there any more. They’ve been moved from their groovy West End location to an end-of-the-Piccadilly-Line suburb not far from where I live now (the idea of all those ungrateful, spotty youths mooning around in the dark in all that priceless West End Real Estate must have got to those pioneering, Thatcher-era educrats).

Anyway, once I’d made some prints, I retouched the pic using some inks and a sable brush I bought from the shop in the photography department. Got rid of all the creases and scratches. I regret that now. I’d have left the blemishes alone if I was copying it now.

The cleaned-up copy has hung on various walls in my life for over twenty years now without ever encountering a computer, until last week when I finally scanned it. And now it’s on flickr.com, living out its third life in the digital realm. I wonder if there’ll be more lives?

Blunkett brutalised

His offence was foolish but hardly a crime. The Ministerial Code is intended to prevent conflicts of interest from arising. None arose. He entered every transaction into the register of members’ interests. He did everything he was obliged to and made a royal balls up of the discretionary bits. He’s been a grade A berk.

Does he deserve to have his career terminated, his reputation ruined, his earnings potential permanently curtailed? I don’t think so. What makes us so unforgiving of our politicians? Why are we so convinced of their venality that we can’t allow even a disabled man at the end of his tether some leeway?

We’ve become a blood-thirsty bunch, gleefully dissecting the blighted love lives (and failed diets) of celebrities and eviscerating our public servants for even the slightest departure from the kind of probity we long ago abandoned in our own rather less exciting lives. In public life we’ve exchanged the deference and unearned privilege of the past for the nastiness and unearned brutality of the celebrity era – and it’s not an improvement. It makes me feel slightly sick.