So Very British

One of the questions that I sometimes ask photographers that I interview for On Landscape is about the appeal of photography, and the balance that lies between achieving a satisfactory image, and the experience itself, irrespective of the outcome. There’s no wrong and right answer, and we each place ourselves at different points on this particular equilibrium. At times we may feel frustration as we become greedy, and want or expect both.

I found myself having to ask myself this same question recently. While on holiday in Scotland in September I changed SD cards in the field and, worried about mixing used cards and spare ones in my small shoulder bag, I invented my very own Very British Problem.

1. Decline to put item in regular place of safe keeping in case it isn’t safe enough (i.e. from you).

2. Forget which super-safe place you put the item in.

3. Result = said item is perfectly safe from you.

For reasons I won’t go into, our unpack after 3 weeks in Scotland was interrupted, and it was only two days later while out for a walk that I thought about the card and the fact that I needed to retrieve it from its place of safekeeping.

Sunday came and I naively thought I’d treat myself to a spell reviewing photos from holiday. But where was the card? I knew where I’d put it, but couldn’t remember unpacking it. So I worked through all the options, conducting a finger-tip search of all the pockets and corners of my main bag. I checked my camera backpack even though I didn’t expect to find it there. I did this on more than one occasion. Ironically I went upstairs to find the card after reading Rob Temple’s The 10 Stages of British Anger in the previous day’s paper. By now I’d passed 1. Feeling Put Out and was definitely 2. Miffed. I may with the benefit of hindsight have got to 3. Disgruntled. Possibly 4. Cross and even 5. Exasperated*. OH picked up on the vibes although I stubbornly refused to admit that anything was wrong.

I thought about the implications of losing the images from 2/3 of the holiday. Ironically it had been the first time in ages that I felt I’d done anything worthwhile while away. Holidays used to be my main photographic escape and nourishment, but I’m long past the drama of the view and need time to connect with a place and to relax beyond the obvious. Being pragmatic, there would be a saving of time from uploading-reviewing-processing, which nowadays always gets squeezed on return from a break, is often deferred, and sometimes never completed. I could at some point go back, but I wouldn’t be able to replace the beginnings of the themes that I’d worked to on Skye.

Above all else I was annoyed with myself. I knew that if I’d simply put the card back in the camera bag – as usual – everything would have been fine. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I also got to the point where I began to mistrust my memory of events. Had I done something different? It gave me a very small insight into the fallibility of memory and how pressure, whatever its origin, can be used to alter our thoughts and our recollection of events.

By the end of the day I still couldn’t solve a problem of my own making. Could it have fallen out of the bag? I really didn’t think so but I contemplated emailing or phoning the B&Bs we’d stayed in after our Skye cottage just in case. I knew nothing more would be productive so went to bed with the aim of parking the matter and clearing my head, in the hope that a blinking lightbulb might come on at some point. Though I did end up drawing a mind map on the iPad just in case to see what came of it. Zilch.


Nothing new dawned Monday. Out for a walk in the afternoon, a little snapshot of the kitchen table in our cottage popped into my head, and the fact that I had placed the card on top of a book I’d just bought, but then moved it in case OH looked at the book without realizing the card was on it (in times of doubt it’s always useful to consider if the blame may be placed elsewhere). But I still couldn’t remember the next bit. I wondered whether, if I could leave my body, float around the room and observe myself I’d be able to see it – regression hypnosis should do the trick.

When I got back I searched bag no.1 again. Nothing. Then the camera bag. And just as I was concluding ‘nope’ I picked up a plastic bag containing a water bottle to repack it. And there was the card, in said bag, minding its own business. What a sense of relief – that I’d found it, and that I could have so easily binned it by mistake. It was far from a safe place that I'd chosen.

So now I’m back at the computer. Uploading-reviewing-processing. It doesn’t seem much of a chore after all and this Sunday I will make time to review the images. Now that I know where they are. You might even get to see some.

* Should you wish to know, the others are 6. Fuming, 7. Seething, 8. Bloody Livid, 9. Going Ballistic and 10. Silence. I don't do 6-9, but I'm quite good at 10. Thanks to Rob Temple for managing to inject some humour into the situation! More VBPs at Very British Problems


Loading comments...

Add a comment (click to expand)