TAKING PHOTOS THAT CAPTURE THE HOLIDAY MOOD

Chances are you’ve already seen the photo of an alleged party that took place last Christmas.

I can’t reproduce the photo here but, if you take a moment to check out this date online, you’ll find a jolly image of 24 people and a tempting buffet. Many of the group are wearing paper hats, and one even has on a House of Commons Christmas jumper (allegedly). Given Covid restrictions, such an event shouldn’t have taken place at the time, but I can only admire the photographic skills involved. Everyone is smiling at the camera, the food is still appetizing, and it’s all in focus. That’s a full house in my book.

I usually get pictures exhibiting canapé debris or dismembered turkey because I didn’t think to take a snapshot until late on. And someone is always blinking or playing the fool.

In the harsh light of experience, I offer you a selection of images that perfectly capture the holiday spirit and say a lot about how to take pictures. Or not. Let’s kick off with Thanksgiving when I met my brother’s adorable new puppy.

But which end of Althea is which? With the benefit of hindsight and a full SD card, I can tell you that it’s almost impossible to do justice to such a furry dog.

A professional photographer once told me that one important thing to ask yourself about a picture is “What does it say?”

This one says that my stepdaughter is stunning, even with a light fitting sticking out of her head.

And this snapshot from Arlington Cemetery says that it’s best if your other half isn’t waving his umbrella or making hand signals.

It’s also good advice to get as close as you can to your subject. Abraham Lincoln was obliging. It helps that he’s been sitting still for over 100 years.

I was so pleased this juvenile swan let me approach that I forgot to take my thumb off the lens.

What does this next effort say? It says wait till the swan finishes toileting. 

As Christmas trees go up, so do energy prices. Now this photo is in focus, perfectly lit, and taken at a jaunty angle. I’m rather proud of it. Shame it’s only a gas meter.

Nowadays, seasonal photos tend to include lots of Covid tests. For a festive effect, you could place your test cartridge on champagne boxes (see left). It may be the closest you get to a party this Christmas.

I don’t normally take many pictures of liquor stores unless they’re rather special. Whether open or closed, this one in Washington, DC is redolent of atmosphere. It’s also right next to where I lived nearly 60 years ago and it remains practically unchanged, making it a period piece. Historical and in focus. What a result.

Cheers! Have a wonderful Christmas, one and all, and do take lots of photos.

THE CAMERA NEVER LIES

How I treasure old photos. They feature a bygone age, with bygone people that I loved so much and still miss.

Here are my great-grandparents with six of their seven children, including my grandmother, great aunts, and great uncles.  As usual, my great-grandfather wore a fez.

My great-grandparents Abdullah and Aspasie with their two eldest children

A fez was normal headgear in Egypt at the time. Until the revolution in 1952, it was essential in the civil service, the armed forces, and the police. Worn at an angle, it could cut quite a dash, until a gust of wind made off with it. My grandfather never took to it. He’d say, ‘As a hat it is completely useless. It neither keeps off the sun, nor the rain, nor does it keep the ears warm in winter. It is like a flowerpot, that is all. You can’t even use it to hide from someone you want to avoid.’

Still, it suited some, like my Uncle Aziz.

Looking at more recent photos, you may gather that I liked food, swans, and my aunt Muriel. None of that has changed one bit.

My mother took a lot of pictures with a bulky Kodak 35mm that accompanied her everywhere around Alexandria. We lived in Alexandria but occasionally went to Cairo to visit an aunt who had, in a moment of madness, decided to move there. Alexandrians and Cairenes generally held each other in the kind of esteem that Oxford reserves for Cambridge.

In Alexandria with my best friend, also called Carol, the camera case, and Boogie the dog

Sometimes we travelled further afield, especially in summer. This was when hordes of Cairenes arrived by train, bus, or car, bringing their children, their nannies, their cousins, their baskets, their suitcases, and their ruckus. The government, too, moved to Alex, and not an inch of beach was left. Ugh.

Mother always travelled with the camera. I remember the case as if it were yesterday. Made of brown leather with a fuzzy lining, it was an object of fascination, and now I realise that it appears in over half the pictures from my early childhood. I don’t recall what the camera itself looked like, and obviously there are no photos of it.

Lake Geneva, I think. Who cares where you are when you have a cuddly camera case?

No toy stood a chance when pitted against the appeal of the camera case. The doll was soon chucked on the ground by the deck chair.

I didn’t have a comfort blanket. With that camera case to hand, there was no need. However, as with many comfort objects, it didn’t last forever. My mother took a trip to Thailand. She returned to Alexandria sans Kodak, having dropped it in the Mae Klong river. I don’t remember what she bought to replace it. It just wasn’t the same.

Do you have old family photos? And, if so, do you enjoy them as much as I do?

***

If you’re interested, there’s lots more about twentieth-century Alexandria in my forthcoming book The Girls from Alexandria.

The Rise and Fall of the Selfie

selfie
Pronunciation: /ˈsɛlfi/.  Noun (plural selfies). Informal
a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

‘Selfie’ has been named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries Online. And no wonder. Anyone who’s anyone is taking selfies, and a whole lot of nobodies are too.

Originally ‘selfie’ came from Oz, the land that brought us barbies, tinnies, dunnies, and ‘dry as a dead dingo’s donger.’   But the point was, did I want to be left behind by the rest of the world?  By Rihanna, the Pope and the Obamas?  Too right I didn’t.  So here are my selfies.

Me getting ready to go out: getting ready to go out

OK, that wasn’t great.  I had another go.

getting ready

Maybe next time I’ll get my whole head in.  Me at the gym.

at the gym

You didn’t think I would actually go inside, did you?

Frankly the cat could have done better.  And promptly did.

kitty's selfie

See, my problem is that my phone doesn’t have a mirror.  Maybe I need one of those little makeup mirrors that you can stick up on surfaces like the kitchen cupboard.  Much loved in the 60s, they helped the suburban housewife remain perfectly coiffed at all times, even when slaving over a hot stove.

Before you ask, my phone doesn’t have a forward-facing camera.  It’s the kind of phone that makes my sons double up with laughter and give themselves hernias.

Perhaps what I need for the perfect selfie is a kind of stand in front of my face to position the phone.  Of course I wouldn’t be able to see where I was going, but at least I’d get some great selfies of tumbling arse over tit.

Luckily Oxford Dictionaries Online doesn’t just define ‘selfie’.  It tells us what to do

occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself every day isn’t necessary.”

I think that’s my cue to bow out gracefully.  I’m middle-aged now, so even by my mother’s admission I’m practically an adult.

So long, selfie.  I’m going to use my phone for its original intention.  As an alarm clock.  And a torch so I can see my way to the loo in the night.

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