The commitments

The idea for this developed between listening to Dan Bassini on the Sunny 16 podcast and scanning some old colour slides. Dan was saying how, when shooting film, you can’t be sure you got the shot. There’s no chimping analogue.

That goes double with slide film. Most negative films have a fair amount of latitude, so you are generally safe to overexpose a bit. With black and white film you could also under-develop a bit too. This reduces contrast and means you will likely have something usable on the negative. Think of it as raw for analogue. (And that’s raw, not RAW. It’s not an abbreviation. It’s as annoying as the people who write about LEAN methods.) </rant>

But slides. That really is photography without a safety net. Narrow range of latitude, precise exposure and no way of getting back a blown highlight. What you shot is what you got.

The Enid
Slide film – it captures the colour of the light at the time.

This is why large format shooters play around with spot meters and Zone systems – they are paying the same (or more) per shot than I pay per roll. I’d be nervous too. At least with 35mm I can easily bracket the exposure and not make my wallet cry.

Shooting slide film in large format must be a scary commitment. No way of anticipating what you’re getting and no way to save it if you cock it up. Back in the old days the large format people used to shoot tests on Polaroid, but that’s no longer possible. Perhaps what you do now is take a test shot on an old digital camera that can display a histogram or do the blinking highlights thing. The old sensors had about the same dynamic range as slide film so could show you where you were likely to lose the highlights. But if you’re doing that, why not shoot on digital anyway?

Deck Chair
It really is possible to shoot spur-of-the-moment even on unforgiving slide film.

This commitment thing is not new though. It wasn’t until Polaroid came along that anyone could see how a picture turned out until later. And it was only roll film that allowed an easy second shot. This means that most of the important pictures in history were taken without immediate confirmation. Want to know what it was like? Turn off the picture review on your digital camera.

It’s not impossible but it is pretty difficult to change or adjust a slide later. I scan mine at the lowest contrast setting I have and it can still be difficult to get the full tonal range. I’ve got an HDR setting in the scanning software but that just means I have to convert it later – I might as well get it as right as I can at the scanning stage. Like negatives, good slides scan easily but the bad ones are buggers. By bad I mean deep shadows. There’s detail in there but it’s difficult to get at without losing the highlights or the colour saturation. Some of my slides are old too, so the colours can be all over the place.

Why shoot slide film at all then? Well, I don’t any more. I used to shoot reversal film exclusively though, as it gave the best rendition of colour. This was when we all shot colour negative and had it developed and printed at any convenient one-hour photo shop. Remember Max Spielmann? Even supermarkets used to develop film. But the prints were all done by a machine that averaged the exposure and colour correction, so a good print was a thing of both wonder and beauty. For some reason I decided that slides were the way to go, as the colour wasn’t altered by the processor. Fine if you have a projector, a screen and forgiving friends. Which is why I ultimately switched to colour print.

Yugoslavia
How I miss Agfachrome 50s

I still have a shed-load of old colour slides though, as I said, which I am gradually scanning. My favourite film, Agfachrome, has held up really well and was always forgiving. The Ilfochrome has gone magenta and the Orwochrome varies from ok to almost mono. The commitment is still there though, in little series of bracketed shots and the occasional punchy colours and contrast that sing. I know Ektachrome is back, but I really can’t see myself using it. I can get what I want from digital colour, that’s easier to process and show later and where the extra bracketing shots are effectively free.

It was a grand time, I have some pleasing pictures, but I just can’t find that commitment in me again.

Should photography be easy?

Do we make a thing less valuable by making it easier?

Photography used to be hard; and then Kodak happened. What once took study became ‘you press the button, we do the rest’. The first Kodak cameras had 100 shots on the roll too – we’re talking digital levels of bangin’ ’em off. Kodak democratised photography and made the casual snap possible.

We stumbled along with folding and plastic cameras for a while. Then the rangefinder and the SLR came along. Things got technically complicated and photographs were taken by photographers. The cameras had all sorts of settings and you had to know what to do to make them work properly. There was good money in it though – Bailey made enough to run a Ferrari.

The reaction was point and shoots and the Instamatic. Either no settings or automatic. You didn’t have to know how to work a camera to be able to take a picture.

And so the waves of development rolled in, with simple following clever. Features were added, then automated. What started as complex became easier. Light metering, then automatic exposure, then autofocus. Film turned into cartridges or the camera loaded and wound-on itself.

Talent still counted: all the automation in the world couldn’t help people take good photos. But it became easier to take a picture that was well exposed and in focus, and for the results to be mostly pleasing. But the circulation of a picture was still limited to the people you could physically meet, unless you were one of the few.

The a couple of things happened. The first was the mobile phone. Suddenly, nobody needed a camera let alone film developing or printing. Photography was democratised again – anyone could do it, there were no constraints on capacity and you could see the results immediately. The quality may have been low to begin with but it was good enough and got better.

Then social media happened and suddenly we were all syndicated worldwide. You didn’t have to work for a magazine or newspaper to be seen, you just had to be seen. Upload a picture, get likes, get the endorphin rush. Rinse and repeat. What used to take dedication, craft or understanding could be replaced by novelty and desire. Being somewhere, doing something, looking special – the pictures sparked envy and emulation. Because, like a lot of things, fame followed a power law, with a few famous or popular influencers and a long tail of the rest of us.

But the price of entry was lower. Cameras, including mobile phones, were so good that skill was replaced with presence: you only had to be there. So there became important. You can see this in the rush of people to visit the spots recorded by influencers. Someone recently posted about an old wartime bomber wreck. The police then had to ask people to not park on the road, not get lost, and if they did call them or the Mountain Rescue to at least call them again if they found their own way down. And please don’t take souvenirs – it’s a war grave.

There was a similar discussion around Ben Nevis a while back. It starts near sea level but it’s high and cold on the top and it’s easy to walk off the edge. So in 2009 the cairns were moved to mark the descent route and avoid a gully. The advice has always been to be properly equipped and to know how to navigate, but now we have the equivalent of automation.

So the camera (or phone) needs no investment of skill to operate. Being seen by other people is just a matter of posting things that enough people will like, but the liking is ephemeral and has to be repeated. Not that the majority of people are like this. Most of us are happy to have a simple method to take a snap and share it with friends. Ultimately, nobody really wants to invest in or learn to use a drill when they can just get the hole.

Does automation and the removal of craft skill bother me? Not at all. I love the idea that everyone can take a snap at the very instant. These moments are precious.

Do I mind that people are shooting weddings or cinematic films on iPhones? No, go ahead. What has always and ever mattered is what the resulting film looks like, and nobody cares what you shot it on.

Do I fret that someone with a modern digital camera can take fantastic pictures without knowing anything about photography? Again, no. The technical things I have learned allow me to shoot with dodgy old manual cameras, which is my hobby. I use the digital kit and all the automation I can get when the results are important. I like to think that my understanding of how it all works helps me get better results more often. But I still know that someone with better kit will often get better results than me, most often when things like lots of megapixels or high ISO make a difference.

I could have looked-up that it would be 2EV, or I could have got out and metered it, but I put my phone on night mode. Bite me.

So what’s the point of this rambling grumble? It’s the bit I don’t like: the social media frenzy to chase likes and gain followers. And yet I write a blog. To be honest (with both my readers), I write because I enjoy writing. It’s a challenge to come up with new ideas each week. It’s interesting to string thoughts together and ask myself if what I am saying is what I mean. I’m delighted if someone reads them, but that is not the thing that drives me. So I attempt to sidestep hypocrisy by making a virtue of my obscurity. But I don’t splurge pictures on social media – I like using them to illustrate a story or using words to describe a picture. Holier than thou? Not really. If I was to blitz Instagram with images it would feel to me a bit like something that was automatic and outside my control. By writing this blog it feels more like having to understand what I’m doing.

Your mileage may vary, as they say, and I am far from being an influencer. Or even understanding what I’m doing.

I don’t believe you make something less valuable by making it easier, if the value is in the thing and not in the learning. I do believe we destroy value when we try to copy or compete, though.

What do you care what other people think?

I have wittered previously about editing your work and only showing your best stuff, but that doesn’t mean playing for likes.

If you try to take the same pictures as someone else, at best you will have an imitation. It’s valid to try and recreate a technique to learn something new, but copying a picture could be plagiarism at worst, or a marked lack of originality at best. It might feel safer to be like everyone else, but where’s the fun in that?

OK, that may be true for small values of fun. As we know, things which are different are criticised. The ability of social media to give an anonymous voice to the critical and sarcastic is a problem. Or it would be if you let it. If you don’t want the gratuitous attacks of a baying herd, don’t stand in front of one. That’s one option. The other is that if you ignore the crowd, you’ll be happier.

But how can you possibly ignore what people say about you or your work? Well, who are you taking pictures for?

If you are taking pictures for money, then the people who matter are your clients. So your work should be visible to current and future clients and there is no need for a method of leaving comments or feedback: if anyone wants to discuss a picture, bring money. Being paid is the only form of feedback you need.

But if you are taking pictures for pleasure, who’s pleasure is it? Do you need the approval of others? Do you need to show your pictures to the world, or to the people who matter to you?

Are we comparing likes or soap powders?

So I think you have two choices: keep your work to yourself and people who matter to you or show your work to the world but disable or ignore the feedback. Yes, I know, I’m both showing pictures and allowing feedback in this blog. But it’s small circulation – if I do start getting negative feedback I’ll see if I can disable the likes and comments. I can live without approval – I work in IT.

There is also a view, expressed best in the Filmosaur Manifesto, that you have no control over what people see in your pictures. So stop worrying that they misunderstand, because they are bound to.

Perhaps the best response to criticism is Elizabeth Gilbert’s – “if people don’t like what you’re creating, just smile at them sweetly and tell them to go make their own fucking art.”

And the best cure for worrying about opinion is the story about Arlene and Richard in the book that has the same title as the story – “what do you care what other people think?”.

Old focus

When I was young and I had no sense… but that’s a different rhyme. From childhood I’ve been shortsighted and worn specs. I did try out for contact lenses in my early twenties, but they didn’t work well enough for my vision. The decider was when I got older and finally needed varifocals. I fell off kerbs, down stairs and was a hazard on the road. I’d seen the results of laser correction so went for it. So now I only need cheap reading specs for close-up, due to my advancing years.

What’s this got to do with photography? Focusing. And ageing.

I used to be able to focus anything. The same way I could read the fine print and thread a needle by eye. These days I use a magnifier and a needle threader. Not all my cameras have autofocus though, so I still need to do that by eye.

There’s a whole movement, perhaps cult, around rangefinder cameras. The argument seems to boil down to being able to see outside the frame so you can watch your subject come into view. Want to break a Leicaphile’s heart? Use an SLR and keep both eyes open.

That aside, I do like rangefinders where I can change the diopter value of the viewfinder. Step forward the Zorki and Fed. My lasered eyes focus best at infinity, so tweaking the viewfinder to match works well. I still need to wear my reading specs on my head so that I can see the camera dials but I’m fine with that.

Some of my old SLRs are becoming a challenge in dim light. Tell the truth, they probably always were. A Zenith is not known for the clarity and brightness of its viewfinder. In fact I usually set the Zenit lens by scale or hyperfocal distance and use the viewfinder only for framing. My Ricoh has a split prism in the middle of the screen plus a circle of microprism. These were useful even in my salad days. My Pentax MX has the functional joy of replaceable screens, so it’s fitted with the one which gives me what I need.

Ricoh XR2
Excuse the grunge. This post led to an early Spring cleaning session. This is the Ricoh XR2 – diagonal split prism and a ring of microprism.

I’ve also got a couple of classic Pentax SLRs, of which one is easier to focus than the other. The Spotmatic SPII has a little microprism patch in the centre of the screen which works well in daylight but I struggle with it in dim light.

Pentax Spotmatic
Pentax Spotmatic II. Central microprism spot with collar of slightly different microprism.

The SV has a larger microprism patch and is easier to focus when it’s darker.

Pentax SV. Large microprism spot but possibly a slightly darker screen than the Spotmatic. Same setup as a Praktica LTL.

I do feel guilty though, as if I am failing the cameras. In bright light they’re fine, but when we lack lux my focus sucks. To be fair though, the rangefinders struggle too. The only advantage is that with a rangefinder you can do the finger trick (move a finger in front of the rangefinder window. If it’s in focus the image in the rangefinder patch area won’t jiggle). I must say that I love my Pentax digital SLR, as it has focus assist and will show you the point of focus of any lens you can stick on the front.

A more recent Chinon C1. Horizontal split prism and microprism ring. The meter scale intrudes though.

I suppose one answer would be to shoot in better light, but I live in England. Right now we’re in our winter, so it’s dark by 5pm. I’ve got an f1.2 lens which helps, but I’m coming round to the idea that my later years will be automated or at least assisted. Or perhaps I just use what works best for the conditions? All the cameras focus easily in bright light but when the going gets dim I should swap to autofocus or pick the one that is easiest (the MX). What I don’t do is put an f3.5 lens on the Zenit (or worse, use the Konstruktor).

But I think I should tell myself to get over it – I can moan all I like about focusing, but try doing it underwater. So I’m back to where I started – focusing is getting harder with age, but there are ways of compensating. I’m just going to have to take more care over it or change my methods.

Edit yourself

Back when I used to go to a photography club, they used to have competitions. One evening I heard some straight but powerful advice. It was in response to someone who had entered two versions of the same picture. The advice was “why are you competing with yourself? If you can’t decide which of these is the better picture, why should I?” Followed by ‘you get three entries, so why did you waste one?”.

If you’ve ever looked at the contact sheets of a published photographer you can see this selection process working. Compare the images taken with the one published. An amateur may take many different scenes – which is the old joke about getting the film back from the lab with your holidays in the middle and Christmas at each end. A pro may take many pictures of the same subject, so you can see the development of what became the final image. You can ask yourself why the final selected image was the one. Indeed, there’s a useful exercise here: put together an explanation of your own pictures that you would make to another person of why one image is better than the others. The better you can explain it, the better your discrimination. It also links back to the question of why you took this picture in the first place.

What the pro doesn’t do is to publish two versions of the same picture, inviting you to compare them. Not unless the two pictures tell a story. The pro is supposed to be able to assess their own work and select the best image. Their camera is a target rifle, not a shotgun.

Contact
Nobody needs to see these but me

There’s bad pictures too. Why would you show someone a picture you consider bad or you don’t like, unless to make a point (ok, so I’m perhaps making a point quite often in this blog)? If there is a chance that someone else might see your work, make sure it’s the good stuff.

Portrait
… and this is the picture I chose to show

Digital photography makes taking extra shots effectively free, so why not use that to explore variations of framing and position? With people, their expressions and eyelines change. Take a picture of a group and you’ll be lucky to get them all facing the camera with their eyes open. There may still be a decisive moment, but the ones before and after can be useful too. Sports and press photographers take lots of pictures to get that one moment when it all comes together. Only one picture gets published though.

Talking about changing expressions, there’s an old trick used by wedding photographers when they had to do those big formal groups, of leaving one frame at the end of the roll or at the end of the shoot. Tell the group it’s over, give them a moment to relax, then take that picture. Just make sure to edit your work and only show the best.

How did you get into photography?

I have a confession to make – I have a soft spot for a prog-rock band. Hardly surprising, as I fit all the criteria. Why is this relevant? Because during a live concert recording of one of their songs they had an audience solo (Hoedown).

This is your chance.

So: you have thirty minutes. The clock starts now. Turn over your papers.

How did you get into photography? When did you start? Was there one influence or several?

What sort of pictures did you start with? Has this changed?

What kept you going?

Have you had any periods when you stopped? What brought you back?

What sort of pictures drive you – what makes you tingle?

What sort of pictures bore you then? What do you not shoot?

Do you take a lot of pictures? How many?

Does this mean you own a lot of cameras? Why?

Are you a photographer or do you take photographs?

Have you stuck with one camera system or changed? Why?

Do you use natural light or control it? Flash or continuous? Why?

Colour or black and white? Why?

How often do you print your pictures? What do you do with them?

Who, other than you, gets to see your pictures?

You can save one picture you’ve taken. Which one?

Post the zombie/ plague/ nuke/ alien apocalypse you are left with one camera, one lens. Which one do you save to document the uprising?

Other than your phone, do you normally carry a camera?

When you go out, how many cameras do you take? Why?

When do you take pictures?

Are there things you won’t take pictures of? Why?

What was the last thing you did that was new to you? When was that?

What is the biggest format or pixel count you shoot, and the smallest? What do you shoot most?

What’s your style? How did you develop it?

What has been the biggest influence on you? Why?

How much have you spent on photography?

Do you have a picture you are proud to have taken? Is there one you regret?

How would you like to be remembered?

How many pictures do you have of yourself?

Instagram, Facebook, website, ‘zine?

Have you ever exhibited your pictures?

What is the best camera? Why?

What’s the hardest thing about photography?

If photography stopped, what would you do instead?

Would your partner or friends answer these questions differently if they were asked about you?

Time’s up. Stop writing. Please hand in your papers. Don’t forget to put your name at the top.

Alain

Checklists

So you’re off to shoot something specific – what do you take? What if the event is special or not repeatable? What if something goes wrong?

I don’t shoot photos under these sort of constraints, but I’m no stranger to the planning. I regularly (pre bug) go diving. Even the closest site is an hour from home. So I have often had that feeling of terror that I’ve forgotten something. If we’re out on a boat there’s also the dread of finding that something important is still in the car.

Enter the checklist. An A4 page printed on both sides. One is all the kit that has to go in the car. The other side is what needs to be taken to the boat. It’s laminated so I can mark it off as I go. It doesn’t stop me worrying, but I know that if the list is ticked, I’m good. I have also made up prepacked sets of equipment to help. All the underwater camera gear is in a plastic tool tray. There’s a camera bag with a rangefinder kit and there used to be one with a medium format kit. Ready to go without searching for bits.

pack list

There’s also the procedural checklist. In my work I’ve had to do some complex tasks, sometimes repeating them. I’ve also had to organise people to follow a standard procedure.

Enter the checklist again. In this case it’s every step to be taken, with no assumptions and total clarity on what needs to be done. And you tick each step as you go. Then, when you are inevitably interrupted, you can resume where you left off. You can also step back and list the tools or ingredients you need before you start. When developing film that means not just checking I have the chemicals, but that they are fresh.

The final step is the planning, which includes the alternative steps for when things happen. Where do I have to be and when? Where can I park or put my stuff? Who is my contact? What if it rains?

Run every scenario you can think of. Make notes. Draw diagrams or maps. The benefit here is that you can plan your alternates with a cool head and then know, when things go bad, that you can follow the plan. What happens otherwise is that you make bad choices under pressure. For example, the Apollo 11 guidance computer rebooted as it was landing on the moon. The engineer responsible in Mission Control had already played-out that scenario and made good decisions. NASA learned this after the failure of Apollo 1 but then forgot and had to learn it again with Challenger.

A more recent example used in a lot of studies for problem solving and decision making was BA flight 9. Gliding a jumbo jet with dead engines, facing trying to get over the mountains or ditch in the sea. They tried to restart the engines without success. So what did they do? Follow the documented engine restart procedure again.

Ok, so none of my decisions will ever be this critical. Mine are at the level of ‘what if I’m delayed?’ Or ‘what if the battery runs out?’. I use Waze to guide me when driving as it routes around congestion. I use What3Words to find and mark my destinations – I can be accurate to the correct door in a street and it feeds the destination into Waze. In the diving world we prepare a safety sheet for the place where we are diving. It has important telephone numbers, the nearest decompression chamber, access routes – everything you need to know when you don’t have the time to look for it.

Safety

There’s one more thing that helps avoid mistakes: labelling. I used to do chemical analysis in a lab, so I became a bit obsessive about labelling. Two clear solutions in beakers, which is which? In the lab I used a wax pencil. These days it’s white electrical tape. If I pick up a camera I know if it’s loaded or not, and what with. That label stays with the film through until it’s developed.

So there you go – the blogger’s guide to avoiding fup ducks:

  • Packing list
  • Method list
  • Alternates
  • Labels

Plans may not survive contact with the enemy, but planning does.

The hall of fame

What do you do with your pictures when you have taken them? Put them on Instagram? Print them and put them in an album? Ignore them and take some more?

There’s an idea I copied that makes me happy every time I look at it: the hall of fame.

Our previous house had a corridor between two bedrooms and this is where it started. I got a load of small picture frames from Ikea or anywhere I could get them cheap. They were all around the size to take a 6×4 print. I then went through my files and printed pictures of friends, family, relatives. I printed copies of old family portraits and snaps taken with phones.

Then the walls got covered in a random layout of pictures. In this case more really is more.

When we moved to the current house we had a study instead of a corridor, so it was lined with pictures. None of them is art – these are the snapshots of people and events that make you smile. This is why we carry cameras and why photography should be easy – to capture moments with people you love and like (and family).

fame

Because we are all working at home now and meeting by video, I know that covering the walls with pictures is not a common thing. In grim times it is a happy thing though. There’s my dad on national service, my granny in uniform and our kids pulling faces. Over there are friends grinning or fooling about and the pair of us gurning like fools.

It makes me happy.

One lens

My first camera didn’t have a zoom lens. It was a while before I could afford a second lens, so I learned the basics with a “standard” lens – a 40 degree angle of view. This is supposed to match the normal field of vision of the human eye, which it does not. Perhaps the ‘perspective‘ (meaning diminution) matches, which is more likely.

Zooms were great though – my favourite is a Pentax 24-50mm. I’ll bet though that a lot of zooms are used at one end or the other of their range and not much in between. There used to be a number of point and shoot cameras that offered two switchable focal lengths rather than a zoom. I know I had one for a while. It made a lot of sense – easier to make, quicker to use and probably got exactly the same shots.

I wonder though if sticking to a single fixed lens might be a useful exercise? I know that 35Hunter does a thing of using one camera with one lens for one month. I’m not sure I could be that disciplined. If anything, it would be the one month that was hardest. I’ve regularly been out with one camera and one lens, but I will change the combination depending on where I’m going. Not at all like the old days where the camera and lens of choice were the (only) ones I owned.

These days I have more lenses but I find myself swapping them less often. After that initial period with only my standard lens I had the standard hobbyist set of wide, standard and long. In those days it meant 28mm, 50mm and 135mm on 35mm film. (That’s 65, 40 and 15 degrees angle of view) I was constantly swapping lenses. The main reason was that I had them with me – I used to carry a huge bag stuffed with lenses and gadgets. As I got older I tended to cut down on the camera gear and carry things that were more useful, like drinking water or a map.

So what’s the big deal? I think I might have a go at the 35Hunter 1:1:1 challenge to see what effect simplicity has. Even though I take great joy from being able to play with different kit, it would be interesting to go back to the basics and my roots and see what happens when I have to work within constraints (and not the Konstruktor challenge). A good starting point could be that I’ve got a couple of cameras loaded already. I’m going to flip a coin and carry just one of them until it’s done, then swap to the other. Make that three – I’ve just found another one that’s loaded and part shot.

Choices

Which should it be then? The Pentax is loaded with Kentmere 400, the Mercury with Kentmere 100 and the Ricoh with some Kodak colour print film. The Pentax it is. If nothing else, it will get some part-used film finished.

Have a go yourself. See what happens.

National Geographic

Despite the death of printed media, National Geographic seems to have continued to circulate every month since 1888. It has always been a pioneer and a showcase for photography. I confess to only flicking through copies in waiting rooms though – it was always both out of reach and not a thing we did when I was going up.

There was always that hint of imperialism too, in a ‘look at the quaint natives’ sort of way. I could be totally wrong about that though. Like I say, I was never a regular reader. All that I can really remember about it was the great photography.

Then I found a best of book in a charity shop. It’s called Through the lens: National Geographic greatest photographs. And it probably does what it says on the cover.

img_20201114_07495914023703385206484456.jpg

First impression? That photography got technically better. Look at a landscape (yes – yawn) shot on slide film and compare it with the digital stuff, even on somewhere like DIY Photography. Modern photography has finer resolution, wider dynamic range and endless opportunities for post-shot manipulation. Look at a National Geographic page and you see slide film – saturated colours, blocked shadows, high contrast. Technically you are looking at pictures spanning more than a hundred years. Some of them would be thrown out of a local camera club competition for not being sharp. But then you look at the pictures and begin to understand that the content matters more than the quality.

Remember Steve McCurry’s picture of the Afghan girl? It was on the front cover in June ’85. Seventeen years later he found the woman again and took another picture of her, holding a print of the original shot. You could say it’s a straight ‘stand against that wall, hold this, look at me, click’. But the girl was remarkable for her eyes and the woman is veiled. It makes you want to know the story.

Perhaps that is the best side of National Geographic – pictures that provoke interest and stories that explain and understand. Rather than a prurient interest in ‘foreigners’ it’s about confirming that we are all the same. Really – if the entire population of the world was wiped out except the people of Peru, humans would still retain 85% of their genetic diversity. (Superior; Angela Saini). So there is no them, only us.

[Which hasn’t stopped an idiotic political party segregating people by their names.]

There’s also the joy of being nosy. We’re social animals, so we spend a lot of time watching each other. It’s why groups of teenagers can’t just have fun – they have to have noisy fun so that other people know they are having fun. A person I know loves darker evenings, as people put their lights on but don’t pull their curtains. She’s not interested in the people as such but loves seeing other people’s houses. And it’s why I think empty landscapes can be boring.

Anyway – if you can get hold of some back issues of National Geographic, see what you think. And do get over the sharpness thing.