19 December 2007

Open eyed, empty handed

I'm on jury service at the moment. Cameras are not allowed in a British court room, and so mine have spent the beginning of the week in a locker. Today I decided to leave them at home.

This was probably the first time since I was twelve or thirteen years old (more than forty years ago) that I've not had at least one camera with me.

And today, as luck would have it, a point of law arose which led to us being allowed out onto the streets for two and a half hours while it was resolved.

It was a beautiful day, cold and bright. The winter sun filled everything to the brim and overflowing with golden light and luminous shadows. To move my head or even my eyes was to be swamped by a hundred new images of things, faces, colours, reflections, gestures, spaces, absences, impressions, all crying out to be framed and held. The sun floating unusually large, yellow and luscious in the south, looking exactly like the fireball it is; a strong, emphatically pockmarked, slightly gibbous moon hovering to the east beside a red brick industrial smokestack against the lucid blue of the sky. My hands reached for, and ached to hold, a camera that wasn't there.

As I've said elsewhere, the ability to take photographs in one's head, before realising them in the camera, is an essential attribute for a photographer; but to not have the choice about whether to realise them or not is like taking a step that isn't there and feeling the world lurch off balance in the pit of the stomach.

Yet, I have to admit that it was good for me. After a while, I accepted the inevitable. For a couple of hours I wandered around with my hands in my pockets, letting the image stream flow through me in full knowledge and acceptance of its transience. And learned a great deal.

But I shan't leave the cameras at home tomorrow, though.

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