I love photography.
I especially love my digital camera. It’s big and solid, a proper camera, not one of those tiny things that fall out of your pocket when you bend over.
Most of my photography is for the books I write and publish, so when I switch it on and it hums into life I feel myself switch over. I enter the world of work.
I become an artist rather than a tourist.
But there is more to it.
I was researching graveyards and went to an abandoned churchyard near where I live. It is no longer used for burials, has benches to sit on and is used by dogwalkers. I’d even helped design a treasure hunt that passed through it so had looked at some of the gravestones. I remember the one we made use of had a family in which 3 children had drowned in separate incidents. What are the odds of that?
I’d sometimes looked around the graveyard, but until I turned on my camera, I’d never really seen it.
I felt like I was in a tunnel.
I stopped noticing other people, other things. I became an extension of my camera.
I stopped being me, stop thinking about things around me. I sometimes step into traffic, trip over steps. I have to make an effort to do sensible things that are usually second nature.
I imagine it must be something like becoming a hunter, when creatures ceased to be animals, but prey. When I hold my camera everything became a subject; every subject loses its individual identity.
I took my camera to the graveyard in early autumn.
The light was dappled and golden as were many of the leaves.
I photographed box tombs. One of them was broken so I could see the brickwork inside. I watched a squirrel scurry up one tree and onto another one. He sneezed but I didn’t catch that. He was a grey squirrel, they’re supposed to have wiped out the native red ones, so we’re supposed to hate them. They’re called rats with good PR. But that’s not their fault.
I once saw one burying nuts whilst a jay stood by watching. As soon as the squirrel moved on the jay dug up the same nut and ate it. The squirrel gradually realised what was going on and eventually turned on the jay and tried to hit it before it flew off. If a squirrel could put his hands on his hips and stamp his foot, that one would have.
I really enjoyed the different types of the tombstones: vertical slabs, horizontal, sarcophagi, made of sandstone and/or multicoloured granite. Most were family groups, some were groups of apparently unconnected people. But they must have been close to be lying together. There was even a birdbath memorial. That was my favourite, a memorial that was more than art, was a kindness to birds.
A while ago I heard an old friend was back in town. We had been… we had a sort of history. He is a photographer.
I got talking to someone who knew him. He said I should call him.
I said no, it’s been too long.
We’ve both changed, both moved on.
It’s never a good idea.
But then I thought, what the hell, it might be fun.
I had his number. I waited a few days. I called him.
He was surprised and happy to hear from me. We agreed to meet. I wasn’t even sure if I’d know what he looked like. People change.
From the moment our eyes met, it felt like the earth flipped on its axis.
We talked. I don’t recall about what.
We laughed. Effortlessly and for no reason.
I’d forgotten what it was like to really laugh.
I’d been having a really hard time with my neighbours. I was exhausted, depressed, lost. All my problems suddenly vanished. Life felt suddenly worth living.
We walked for a while. He insisted on buying a lottery ticket to commemorate our new good fortune
We sat outside a pub and talked. Nearby was a group of men dressed as Elvises, some of them rather badly. It has become something of a tradition for groups on hen/bucks nights to dress the same, but these lads were different. They were really good natured, getting ready for a serious night of drinking. Ade was intrigued by them and asked if he could take their photographs.
He had a small camera with him, of course. Just as I always have a pen and paper.
They told us they were the seven ages of Elvis.
Ade was intrigued and started talking about doing a book on these groups.
It was as if I wasn’t there. When he was taking his shots he was in the zone.
In the Julie Delpy film ’48 Hours in Paris’ her character is insulted by her boyfriend taking photographs when they are together. She played a photographer who knew about ignoring everything but the subject, even the person you are with. No matter how much you care about them. Or claim to.
Still, the magic was between Ade and me.
I patted his knee. I never pat anyone’s knees.
Walking round town our hands met; they danced with each other, then sort of interwove.
It felt good.
It felt right.
It felt like it had always been right.
I wondered why we had drifted apart.
Memories of his alcohol and drug use faded like mist evaporating in the morning.
But then he was still him, and I remembered why we had drifted apart.
For our next date he kept changing the time we were to meet. It got later and later, but I didn’t mind. Not much. I knew he was busy, had things to do.
I waited outside the pub, the minutes ticked by, I still thought he was worth waiting for.
He turned up half an hour late.
I still didn’t mind. The magic was still there.
On the way back to my place, arm in arm, he suddenly stopped.
He got out his camera and took a photo of the shadow we cast on the ground.
I was amazed that he would notice it.
He is a photographer.
It’s not what he does, it’s what he is.
He promised to keep in touch, but he didn’t.
He signed his texts with XXs but they were just letters.
He said we were still good, but his silence said more.
Weeks passed and he didn’t call.
A few times I texted him and got a brief response.
I got mad at him. I told him he was hurting me.
He was busy.
He was always busy.
There were no more texts or calls.
I thought he had left the country, so that was ok. He’d be back some time. He’d be in touch some time.
But then I saw him. Or a photo of him by him in an exhibition.
He was still around.
Still ignoring me.
I felt hurt, insulted. He had not just messed me around. He lied.
I seem to recall there’s something in the Bible about ignoring people being more hurtful than hating them. You can react to hate. You can engage with the person.
Hate is the counterpoint to love.
There is no counterpoint to being ignored. It just eats you up if you can’t get rid of it.
Ignoring a person hurts more. It leaves you powerless, valueless. It is the act of a coward.
I looked at Ade, or, rather, the picture he’d taken of himself.
He was slouched against a lamp post, curled in on himself like a criminal.
My former toyboy looked older than me.
People called him ‘a real character’. That’s a euphemism for a drunk. Like saying someone who is overweight has a great personality.
I wanted to do something to his image. Cut it, scribble on it, tear it to pieces.
Then the earth flipped on its axis again.
Normal transmission was resumed.
The magic was gone.
What had I ever seen in him?
What had we ever had in common?
We were complete opposites, moved in different circles.
Whatever happened, whatever went wrong between us, I shouldn’t have been surprised.
I was no longer in front of his lens.
Nobody is for long.
Last year I had a dream about him. I finally got a chance to tell him off, for being such a jerk. I told him to fuck off.
Spookily, a few days later I saw him in the street. I was tempted to speak to him, but I’d already told him what I needed to say. Even if it was in a dream.
He claimed to have an archive of 40,000 photos. How can you focus on anyone in that crowd?
Snap, move on.