Background

Instruction 4 of “100 Ways To Take Better Photographs” by Michael Busselle talks about essentially keeping the subject of your photograph is focus and the back ground blurred. My phone has a pretty nifty aperture setting which makes me look like more of professional than I actually am. That coupled with a great pixel count and high quality leica lens adds up to some great pictures.

The day to day of parenthood has been less than glamorous in the run up to 5 months of our little one gracing us with his chubby presence. A dangerous cocktail of sleep deprivation, exhaustion and to-do-lists have swamped my wife and I and we have been struggling to keep it straight. The wry good news is most parents at this point have the same challenge.

Knowing this hasn’t made our uphill hike any easier. One thing that both I and my wife agree on is blanking out anything that doesn’t help us grow this little one. There’s so many things to do in any given day without added stress. Blurring it all into the background d has helped us prioritise and be more effective.

Because I obviously can’t breastfeed I’ve picked up as many background to-do-list bits to help us get more organised and clear, while my wife has focused on getting the chubby one through each day without passing out from sheer exhaustion.

Parenthood never promised to be easy but it has consistently been rewarding. Every milestone experienced is a memory banked and we already so rich with them.

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The Big Picture

Instruction 3 of “100 Ways To Take Better Photographs” by Michael Busselle, is “Make use of depth of field”. To not do so would run the risk of shooting a picture that is sharp throughout, losing background details, or missing sharpness in the close foreground.

Use of depth of field and knowing how to position yourself, what to focus on and what aperture to use is vital for a picture that is full of clear detail and crisp with sharpness. It isn’t easy, I practised with my phone with middling to average results.

As I took a few shots of passers by I noticed some had masks on and I was immedietly transported to the ongoing conversation about the current pandemic. This blog up to this point has been something of an oasis from the consistently gloomy updates but I was always aware I would touch upon it.

Studying journalism at university was a dream. I had made my decision off the back of an expose I wrote at secondary school uncovering an embezzlement plot involving a teacher wrangling cash out of both the school principal and the students she presided over. I understood that not every story was going to be as exciting as that, or at all important but the pursuit and publication of truth was an admirable one.

It was drilled into us that information points such as who, what, where, why, when and how were the pillars of any story and they had to be displayed in a way that was clear, engaging but above all, objective. It was the reader who reserved the right to form their own decision based off the information provided. Our only job was to provide that information punctually.

Having credible sources was simply a matter of professional journalistic integrity, you didn’t make things up, it just wasn’t done. You provided information that wasn’t subject to a conflict of interest or in some way warped the truth. It couldn’t be molded into a fact, it simply had to be one. For when facts and figures lies, the truth as we know it dies.

The real world isn’t the bubble of intellectual integrity that academic institutions often are. The real world often deflates the optimism and upstanding individual as they strive for the job they have studied for until they are not as sharp or colourful, a husk of their former promise.

A picture had been taken and presented to the public but it was not the whole picture. A falsehood had been engineered in the name of profit, as civil liberties and truth had been sacrificed upon the altar of mammon and we had been called to worship and give thanks.

Using depth of field dextrously was a lot like critical thinking; it required a little effort for clearer results. Unfortunately, many are more than happy to be given pre-shot snaps of information that tells of a story that is supposedly happening as opposed to the truth in the background deliberately blurred out of focus. The misleading mainstream media have a way of whipping up fear, even our finance minister has said we cannot live in fear.

There needs to be a demand for truth and clarity, so that we can get the full picture and decide for ourselves how we wish to rearrange the frame and position ourselves more advantageously for another shot. Any less is a dramatic erosion of hard won democratic right. Many will echo our prime ministers rhetoric about being at war. As we all know civil liberties wane in war time, almost anything is permissable. Yet it wasn’t too long ago we were told we were at war and the justification for that was hollow and we paid the price in blood and culture clashes. We can’t keep learning the same lesson after the fact, we’ve been here before, it’s familiar terrain.

Baby and I working on and expose

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In Focus

It’s general consensus that our little boy is a looker. The wife and I spend half our time marvelling at how he only seems to have inherited our “best bits” and blended them into a crescendo of humbling beauty.

As a passing joke we would often say to each other that we should definitely sign him up for modelling. Practicality speaking neither of us have enough energy to keep all our numerous appointments and day to day hustle bustle straight to commit to yet another endeavour.

That being said we’ve been looking for ways to be proactive in our financial advetures AND capture moments so signing up the little one is an intersection of goals in many ways.

Catching up with an old friend from university encouraged me, her daughter was signed by an agency after a few rebuffs. I attempt to search for some agencies after a long day but pass out in bed, my body winning the duel between it and my brain.

As avid users of Instagram we both found easy to get caught up in the rat race of affirmation, we wanted our poems to be appreciated and not ignored in favour of work with les craft and depth.

A step back helped us appreciate the greater world outside of the “likes and hearts ecosystem”. Keeping each other, our goals and dreams and now our son in focus, was and is priority. Its hard not to engage with the social media sphere without encountering this battle for balance but when you have the right anchor, it’s doable.

We promised each other that we would not plug our sweet baby for attention and profit. While there is nothing wrong with modelling or throwing up frequent snaps of chubby chops it had to be done from a heart centered position.

There were many many people that wanted to be updated on the progression of the birth, the baby, my wife, the aftermath, navigating covid restrictions and so much more. Splashing ourselves on a news cycleesque instagram post routine after the birth of our son and beyond sounded like a special type of torture. Even as a freelance journalist, after 48 hours of my wife in the worst type of pain and going through several complications, the last thing I wanted to do was a LIVE update.

We weren’t exactly representing a brand but there was an innate pressure from many people who felt entitled to our private life. The modern dielema of social media use is everyone is being watched and at the same time watching others like some warped Trueman Show. The new radical movement in this time is in fact a traditionally old one, to keep one’s private life private unless stated otherwise and to keep that in focus.

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A Shot With A View

Honestly speaking I didn’t think this through. I should have contacted Michael Busselle, author of “100 Ways To Take Better Photographs” and discussed a royalty pay out to yours truly, considering I’ve technically been plugging his book and will be plugging his book throughout my photographic adventure. Dollar aside, I love the book’s straightforward, anti-pseudo-intellectual approach of potent bullet pointed morsels of instruction.

The opening sentence reads; “It’s easy to think of the view finder as simply a means of aiming the camera, but it’s much more creative to think of it as the photographer’s ‘canvas’, a space to be filled in the most pleasing and striking way possible” . It’s Sunday morning and I haven’t slept all night, I’m running on coffee and inspiration. I spent all night writing and half an hour of the early morning attempting to unblock my partners milk duct. Oh the joys of breast feeding. I throw on some clothes and bundle our son into the pram to get him into the daylight and hopefully off to sleep to give mummy a reprieve and our ears some rest. It works and an hour later he’s snoozing in his pram in the lobby while I fan the glowing embers of a coffee high still in its infancy.

My wife says we’re meeting her cousin and her cousin’s partner and that today will be a relatively mellow one. While I am listening of course I am also simultaneously admiring her face and figure. It dawns on me that my bias as her ever-adoring husband is getting in the way of taking technically good photos. It isn’t enough for her to look stunning, although that is a given, but my regard for the rest of the canvas needs to be more acute.

The viewfinder was always a pointing mechanism for me, the whole point and shoot philosophy is hard to unlearn but this was always about slowing down to take notice of the surrounding area. My wife says I tidy up too thoroughly and her chaos is in fact organised chaos and she knows exactly where everything is. It’s a loving point of contention that is a source of mild frustration and hilarity. I want the visual canvas to be perfect, out of sight out of mind. There must surely be a correlation between organising ones own habitat before venturing into the world each morning. Jordan Peterson’ sage voice echoes in my mind “tidy your room”.

We meet her cousin Keith and his partner Kate and swap nappies and bears for trees, hills and sunshine. The importance of swapping settings is important for mental health, being stuck in all day is no good. After we fight ecah other for five minutes over who gets coffee, my wife wins and several lattes later we are sat at a poppy monument that’s catching the sun perfectly.

I tentatively aim my viewfinder with a little more purpose and fit everyone into a shot with a background that isn’t distracting but interesting. The tidy tendency wants to get a more organised background but like many beautiful things, life is messy. You don’t always get to choose what’s in the background but you do get to appreciate who is in the forefront.

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A Picture Of The Ideal

So I sold two massive bibles today, huge things, so huge they could be breeze blocks. As with all things that come into the shop, we google them for research and decide on a reasonable price which either ends up being half of the original price or one fourth of the original price, it all depends. The bibles fortunately or unfortunately, were seriously banged up, they had stories to tell, history etched into each scar and tear. The original price would have been easily £150 pounds or higher but our book specialist (who hilariously is an atheist to boot) said I was pushing my luck for pricing them at £20 each. A volunteer ended up selling both for £20 which was still pretty good going.

The bibles left a massive space where they used to sit on the book podium, so I searched around for a photography book to take centre stage. I live in a town populated by hipster students and they love a good camera and a good photography book so I was looking for bait. With no photography books in sight I put a hardback romance novel on the podium. Cleaning up the dust that the bibles left I got thinking about how long it had been since I physically opened my bible. A practising christian, I try not to publicise the fact, rather simply illustrate it in my living. We’re in an age where people don’t paticularily care who you say you are but rather what you do.

There are many wounds that christianity needs to heal. In the name of the church people have been abused, harmed, made to feel less than or simply not welcomed. Shutting the door on people is the last thing God wants. A place that should be open for all, has become an exclusive club, full of people comparing intimate personal journeys as if they’re competing a relay race. The pursuit of the ideal truly beleaugers all. I walked into the lobby and looked up our steep flight of stairs, crestfallen at the conclusion of my musings. I took out my phone and took a picture of the staircase. I named the shot “Stares” after our ability to stare at other people’s journeys with wonder when ours is set before us.

I thought about how we form the idea of ideals not from our own devices but from constructs and values inherited from our own families and friends, our cultures. The ideal picture is not actually a picture of the ideal, we’ve just been told that it is. Our pursuit for perfection propels us to portray a reality that isn’t actually real at all, making it difficult to anchor oneself with realistic expectations.

I thought about my funny mission to take one picture a day of my wife and child. It is a labour of love in my daily goal to be a good father and husband. I sat in bed going over my notes in bed thinking about how my christian walk had become less about reading the bible ten times and more about illustrating what’s in the pages with care and courage.

I laughed to myself when I remembered a time at work when I discovered a beautiful oil painting of Jesus christ going to the cross in the toilet downstairs. I affectionately named that toilet the “Toilet Gallery” because all of our pictures and frames go there since its the only place with the space for such an ensemble. The christ figure was practically glowing off of the canvas. His hair was straight and he looked like a european Gucci model. David Gandy eat your heart out.

The Jesus of the bible is so far removed from this , its hilarious. Isaiah an old testament prophet describes him; “It was the will of the LORD that his servant grow like a plant taking root in dry ground. He had no dignity or beauty to make us take notice of him. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing that would draw us to him.” . Couple that with the fact the ancient Hebrew people had a clear picture of their ideal messiah. He would be cut from the same clothe as warrior King David of old and be solely about the liberation of Israel from the boot of the Romans. What they got was someone more in line with a roaming prophet with ambitions to liberate the rest of the world, not just Israel. Liberation from one great spiritual enemy that had its boot on the neck of humanity, sin. Needless to say, it didn’t go down well with officials of the day.

In christianity Jesus is the ideal, unassuming and humble in all the ways we miss out in multimedia. The Servent-King, the template for the ideal man; power and strength tempered with service and humility. I think about this as I walk home and reflect on my definition of the new man and how that doesn’t always line up with the picture of the ideal man for all seasons that is less Thomas Moore and more give me more.

I open Instagram and attempt a selfie and save it on the first go. While I am what many would call handsome, the spirit surging within me anchors me more. I am not really self obsessed, although admittedly I am in my own head a bit too much at times. I have had the benefit of family and friends nurturing the words that come out of me as opposed to what I look like. It’s why my poetry has been such a big part of my life, my rudder even. So I could be forgiven for presuming the new found community on Instagram was solely hyper interactive.

In classic mythology Narcissus attracts the wrath of nemesis and is made to fall in love with his own reflection after rejecting admirer Echo who wastes away into a feedback loop of despair. It’s surely the cautionary tale of our time in a world locked in the jaws of solipsism.

While Instagram is a fantastic app (heck I met my wife on it), it isn’t without its less charming Features. It has become, for many, a breeding ground of rampant ego and vanity. Keeping up with the Jones’s has never been more poisonous, inspiring a vapid culture in the ultra curated world and only those aware of the mirror’s glare salvage a true sense and picture of their actual selves. I worry that it has become a lightening rod of narcissism for a generation more than any other app that comes to mind.

And yet, there is hope. Hope that if we focus on the intangible elements of the ideal beauty we try to display physically so often, we may blossom into more than we currently are. Instagram was a means to an end for my wife and I when we were long distance dating. We video called and chatted but it required us to leave behind all that we had posted online in favour of the vulnerable beautiful flawed people we were (and still are), scars and stars alike. When we finally met in person it was like the convergence of the planets themselves! Face to face, we were at home with each other, in love not with an ideal but with the real deal and it has made all the difference.

I think the Apostle Paul puts it best ; For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

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