Monday, December 16, 2013

Celebrating the Lost Art of Imperfection

Murky and mediocre - how our
pictures used to look.
The other night a friend of mine told me that he and his fiancé had been planning to invite myself and the family round for something to eat, but that his betrothed was hesitating. “We’ve been having work  done on the house, and she wants it to look perfect,” he said. “She’s a perfectionist.” I told him not to worry. If there’s one thing I can’t tolerate, it’s perfection. I’ve been practicing the imperfect all my life. “Please,” I said, “invite us round while it still looks like crap. I’ll be much more comfortable that way.”

Everything goes to pieces in the end anyway. The consolation for mortals contemplating impossible beauty is the knowledge of its inevitable decay. The afternoon wedding’s picturesque bridesmaid with her exquisitely fashioned dress and fairy-tale hair will be all fucked up on drink by 10pm and lying in a pool of lonely tears and speckled vomit. And why spend hours sculpting a complex, eye-pleasing dessert for the cooing delectation of dinner guests, if those same guests are going to immediately demolish it, digest it, and excrete it before the sun’s up, when we all know it won’t look (or taste) half as pretty.

Which brings me, logically enough, to a new book of football photography. Except that although the book is new, the photos are old. They’re mostly terrible, but impressively so. Their lack of quality highlights the fakery involved in digital photography. Nowadays, you delete the bad shots the second after you’ve taken them. Even if you keep a bad picture, it only takes a few techno-tricks to make it look good enough. Nothing comes out bad any more. That’s why I love this book: ‘What A Shot! Your Snaps of the Lost World of Football’ by Gary Silke and Derek Hammond, the two excellent gentlemen of Leicester responsible for producing the ‘Got, Not Got’ and ‘Lost World of Football’ encyclopaedias of football memories and memorabilia.

The mainly blurred book consists of pictures that fans took with proper cameras in football stadiums 30 or 40 years ago. Heads get in the way. Some objects are massively over-exposed, some are murkier than a cup of Bovril on a foggy night in Workington. A few are quite impressive, most are shit. Because football back then was largely shit to watch, and so was the experience of watching it. And so were the amateur photographers who had the desire and patience to take a camera to the game and risk getting it nicked or confiscated. Furthermore, you had to ignore the hard stares of suspicious punters that you might be an undercover cop slyly snapping wanted or wannabe hooligans. And then you took the time and money to have the film developed, only to undergo “the slight twinge of disappointment” the authors describe in their introduction when you sat on the bench outside Boots the Chemist and opened up the envelope to see what you had hoped would be award-winning action shots.

One of my moving, iconic stills from Lincoln City v
Gillingham, January 1982 (pic: SAHIP)
Three of my own sorry efforts, taken on a dull day at Sincil Bank in early 1982, stretch across pages 60-61. I couldn’t understand why Mr. Hammond was so keen to see them, and then to publish them. Now that I’ve seen the book, I understand. Back then, everything seems faded, washed out, shabby and slightly derelict. And all the better for it. If we look mediocre and far from perfect, it’s because that’s just the way we were. And still are. Though now you just need a digital sleight of hand to hide it.


nathan3e said...

Very nice Ian. I like the Lincoln City photo. Agreed on imperfection, imperfection is what draws me to the music made by Burial, Leyland Kirby, etc.

Natasha Missick said...

I love your twisted view of the world. It's a pessimistic kind of optimism.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

Thanks, Nathan and Natascha. People at school used to call me 'twisted' too, but not in a good way. Natascha, I like your idea for a new cultural movement - we could call it something like Stoical Optimism.

wee.scotty said...

Ian, what has happened to "No-Good Boyo". Don't seem to have heard from him for a while.