26 June 2003
10:45, West London, the window is open and the high-pitched screams of children can be heard outside. Hopefully I'm near a school, although I didn't notice one on the way here. Otherwise a hideous slaughter is occurring outside, having been picked up from yesterday's bloodbath, and no doubt scheduled to continue tomorrow.
I swear that the same child is screaming rhythmically ever forty seconds or so. I don't think I want to know why.
The modern photograph is increasingly devoid of the obfuscation that characterises the truly great pictorial record. Let me explain.
Let us assume for a moment that you, the gentle reader, possess a digital camera. Let us assume further that you also have a computer, running Windows XP. Let us strain credulity still further (and I can see you sneering, you iMac smugwart. I don't care how good OSX is, it hasn't made anyone like you, has it?) by positing that, when plugging the one (camera) into the other (computer), probably using a cable or similar contrivance, your instinct is to open the Scanner and Camera Wizard (look, just shut the fuck up. Seriously. I don't care. Nobody cares. You will die alone and silent, and the subscription copies of "Mac User" shall gather unheeded on your doormat. I hate you. I hate you more than I hate crimson used to communicate boldness as a border design. I hate you more than I hate the use of violence to silence debate. I hate you more even than your parents do, and that's going some).
So, Camera wizard. Which will ask you to give the folder into which your photos are being downloaded a name. For want of any better options, it will give you today's date. There will follow an interval as the pictures are downloaded, sequentially, from your camera (or uploaded, if you'd rather. It makes comparatively little difference, and any difference it will make is conditional upon the same approach being taken to heroin abuse or sex).
So, before we even go on, we have an approximate date upon which the photographs where taken, and the order in which the photographs were taken. Where's the ambiguity in that, eh? Where the romance?
Since this is digital photography we are talking about, the romance may in fact be in the fact that you have restricted yourself largely to taking naked photographs of your partner. This is admirable, of course, and yet more admirable if you asked him or her first. Nonetheless. You now know approximately when your partner was captured in his or her altogether, and in what order. That isn't romance, it's striptease.
9:55 "Big Trouble in Little China" has just finished. A young Kim Cattral is a very weird thing indeed.
You probably have little sympathy for my position. Even if you right-click on each photograph in turn and uncover secret after secret. Its creator. The camera it was taken with. When it was last modified. Whether the person in the photograph still thinks about you. That last is only, in fact, available in Jaguar - a special function that, after a certain period of time has elapsed, throws a companionable arm around your shoulders and tells you not to worry about it, that she never really understood you, and that maybe it's time to move those pictures to the recycle bin, from which they can of course be easily retrieved four years later on a totally different machine because it's a fucking Mac. The same functionality then searches online dating sites for your perfect partner while displaying tasteful, non-exploitative pornography and playing whalesong to accompany your quest for self-satisfaction using a sockful of liver.
But stop. Think for a minute. Those jumbled, chaotic memories of your childhood, early adolescence and, depending on how old you were when the silicon wave hit, university years - would you enjoy them half as much if you could actually assemble a coherent, temporally-structured narrative out of the out-of-focus shots of bleary-eyed evenings, unidentifiable body parts and famous landmarks at dawn? You may think so, but you are wrong. It's only the basic incoherence of memory that makes it worth having, and certainly nothing else makes it any fun whatsoever. Once you have the accompanying information, you start to realise just how much of your life has been spent doing tedious, soul-deadening or just plain pathetic things. Did you feel the need to take a photograph of that time you cried off a party on the grounds that you were awfully tired, then stayed up until 4am watching Babylon 5? God, I hope not. How many times in the last month have you thought 'hey! That's the place where I work. I'd better take a picture."
Possibly you work at the Guggenheim Bilbao. Your mileage may vary.
Think further. Think of the arsenically browning Polaroid's of your infancy, the sepia immobility of your ancestors - if you're lucky, there will be a note or two of explanation written on the back of the card. With Mavis, Herne Bay, '32. Who is Mavis? Which one is Mavis? What were she and her unknown companion, who may or may not be your grandmother, doing in Herne Bay? And why do they look so bloody miserable?
That's your folklore, mush. The aetiology of your life. And, because you never call, you never visit, and God forbid that your parents should see any of these grandchildren that they so fervently hoped for as proof that the more baroque rumours going around the WI were at least in part unfounded, they will be inscribed ever fainter on the ever more slowly rotating drives of memory, until eventually Mavis will not recognise even herself. And why? Because you have been spoiled by a decadence of USB cables and digital zooms.
Well, no more. As you read this, a virus is being downloaded into your system. It will randomly retitle and refile every image in your photos folder, and burn the correct identifying information into the minds of any passing septuagenarians within a half-mile radius. If you want to keep track of what you and Jessamy did at the Living Marxism shindig (each other, and disappointingly so after four months of lack-witted flirting), you are going to have to pay for it in tea, biscuits, and cataracted murmurings. This has the subsidiary advantage that many of our senior citizens are about to be introduced to a new and exciting world of unconscionably hardcore porn.
Of course, this may not be of any concern to you. You may favour a medium-focus camera, unhappy with the poor image clarity even of the more expensive digital cameras. You may develop your own photographs, and then tabulate them carefully, slipping a piece of paper with date, time and dramatis personae into the plastic wallet holding each one in strict order.
If so, you may hear a knocking at your window. That's me. I'm about to beat you witless with the jawbone of a Mac owner.
10:15 Back home, thinking of sleep. God, I'm tired. But at least I've still got a jawbone.