Friday, 25 August 2017

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 25 August

In the incessant need to take photos, the actual moment is lost, Thomas Blaikie says

Dear Thomas
All this endless photographing of everything! I’m getting more and more fed up with smartphone cameras going the whole time. At a wedding recently, people were snapping away, even at the most solemn moments. In the summer time it seems to be worse. Can anything be done?
Brenda Cole , Loughborough

Dear Brenda
Just the other day, arriving at Dieppe on a glamorous car ferry, a husband was trying to take a photo of his wife: ‘I can’t see anything,’ he was saying, ‘it’s so bright.’ ‘That’s why I’ve got my eyes screwed up,’ she replied. Why were they bothering?

Remember the old days? You had an Instamatic camera with its quota of 11 (or 20 if you were wildly extravagant) pictures you could take. Running out of film was the dreaded horror and an entire day of the holiday might be consumed looking for the right kind of further supply. But only the most fearsome bores came back from two weeks away with more than 40 snaps. The etiquette challenge was keeping a nice face as you were required by the eager taker of the pictures to view them, one by one – with commentary.

At least, people then were more selective with their shots. Now the smartphone camera is an ever- present monster, consuming everything in its path. What happens to all these pictures? They’re flung up on Facebook or Instagram, then forgotten after a few seconds. Except perhaps by the people who are in them. One of the worst aspects is the intrusion and the frightful results. Half these snaps aren’t any good – the human subjects look awful. But nobody seems to notice in their mania to ‘post’ messages and comments.

This summer I feel I’ve made a personal breakthrough. I was going to take some pictures of my mother’s garden, which was looking marvellous. Well, gardens are very difficult to photograph in any case but I couldn’t get any decent shots. Suddenly I thought: how about just not photographing it at all? Instead, why not enjoy it while I was in it? There’s something neurotic about all this desperate seizing of everything on camera. We’re so frantically trying to capture the moment, we’re never actually in it. And what you get in a photo is a pale imitation of the real thing.

So that’s my solution: just don’t photograph it. Be there instead. I think also: refuse to be photographed. Say you want Norman Parkinson. Nobody else will do. Unfortunately he’s dead. Being photographed all the time is a terrible strain and we’ve done nothing to deserve it. If it’s really too spoilsport not to join in the jolly group being snapped, insist on final approval before the wretched thing is ‘posted’ online. If it’s not good enough, say so. Suggest better lighting, a different angle. Photography is an art and perhaps it’s about time people realised that.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


Some friends were telling me how they’d been looking forward to the birth of their grandson. He was to be called Jack. Upon arrival, they changed tack drastically. ‘We’ve ended up with Willoughby,’ my friends said, the corners of their mouths distinctly turned down. We know that celebrities, wishing to declare a lack of concern for reality, call children ‘Semolina’, ‘Rice Wine’ and ‘Mackintosh’. Often these offspring turn out badly. In a public place the other day, it was evident from the cries of the parents that a child was called ‘Heath’. I suppose, where celebrities lead, others will follow… if ‘Heath’, then why not ‘Moorland’, ‘Granite Outcrop’ or ‘Alluvial Plain’? I see that, for parents, it is a challenge to find a name that’s unusual but not downright silly. I was called ‘Thomas’ partly because it was the least popular name in the times survey of babies born in the year of my birth. It has served well and I hope will continue to do so. I know barely any other Thomases, yet it is recognised as a name a person might have.

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