Saturday July 9, 2022 – La Minute Monocle
On Wednesday evening, we threw a party at the Leica Mayfair Store and Gallery in London to mark the release of The monocle book of photography (what do you mean you don’t have yours yet? Do you want me to deliver it personally?). It was hot, people were spilling onto the sidewalk and the Laurent-Perrier was sinking. But there was an added thrill: our guests, the city and the country were all waiting to see if Boris Johnson would step down as British Prime Minister. You see, just as our party started, Johnson had returned to Downing Street where a cohort of ministers had gathered to urge him to resign while he still had a jockstrap of dignity left. Was it that we all wondered – the moment when the so-called “greased piglet” would finally be defenestrated?
Rob Bound, our podcast host monocle on culture and contributor of an essay in the book, joined me for a talk on the power of photography (with Matt Beaman, our cinematographer) and told the audience that the phone in his back pocket was buzzing with so many alerts news that he might be as stimulated as someone perched on a washing machine set to the highest spin speed. People laughed and I don’t think anyone looked down to see if the news flashes were really that exciting.
Rob and I have worked together since the launch of Monocle, first with him in house full time and in recent years as a gun for hire. He’s a good sparring partner on these occasions, though his demeanor – he has a bit of the swagger of Mick Jagger, mixed with the wry recklessness of Bill Nighy – forces you to step up your game if you don’t want to be a chorister. . Anyway, we had fun. Rob talked about life on the road with big snappers and how he once basically persuaded me to send him for a dirty weekend in Benidorm for an amazing Expo feature on tanned residents to Spanish resort leather and their passion for serving full English breakfasts to the endless bachelor and hen parties that come to town. Matt also revealed that many of the photographers he works with use film and even go on assignments with large format cameras that aren’t that far removed from the kit invented by Victorian pioneers in the field.
Many of our guests had come with their own cameras, slung from their shoulders on well-worn straps or gently cradled in their hands like newborn kittens. A young man had a film camera that was 40 years old; another, a digital number that seemed to echo a similar old-school aesthetic. But what united them and the men and women in our book was that they discovered the joy of absorbing, mediating and understanding the world by looking through a small viewfinder and clicking a trigger.
In the minds of the public, this process casts the photographer as a hunter of rare butterflies, hoping to somehow catch an elusive prey. But it strikes me that a lot of great photographers are involved in something much more exhaustive and exhausting: trying to produce longer visual story arcs, often following a story, a theme, an idea, for years.
At the event this week, I spoke to the audience about photographer Rena Effendi, featured in the book and speaker at our recent Quality of Life conference in Paris. At the conference, she spoke about the years she spent trying to document conflicts around the world and what they do to people. In Ukraine this year, she met a young boy whose parents had been killed. A passionate collector of all kinds of children’s objects, he wanted to show Rena his latest loot: shrapnel. Sure, it would be an image that could stop you in your tracks (and Rena had clearly had a hard time erasing the scene from her mind) but it’s also all the work that led up to this moment that makes her a excellent shooter and her work is so rich in meaning.
This does not mean that the assimilation, the ordering, the recall of the things around us should be left to the professionals. Even the camera phone in your pocket can do this – I really have to show you my great work someday, maybe when I pass by with your Monocle Photography Book. But for these images to have power, perhaps we all need to worry less about capturing the perfect image and see them as a visual journal of our lives.
As people left, Boris still refused to budge (the morning would finally see him face reality and agree to quit) and I wondered if it was time to dig up my old film camera. Even if I took horrible photos, the camera would make a great summer accessory.