What makes photography special?

Posted on April 17, 2015 by Admin under Musings, The Life of a Derbyshire Photographer

Wider World Part 1 449I do a talk to camera clubs entitled The Wider World of Photography where I cover most of the genres of photography. I’ve been presenting it for just over two years. At the close, I present my Top 10 images. Up till now, I finished the talk by showing a photo of Marilyn Monroe taken by Milton Greene. What I love about it is that Marilyn not only looks typically gorgeous, sexy, stunning and sweet but also vulnerable.  That ballet dress didn’t fit Marilyn so Milton just told her to hold it up which explains the way her hands are positioned.  It’s almost as if she’s crying for help.

However, from today that photo has been eclipsed by the one I always should have shown at the end.  I came across it while I was relating to someone my experience of a Beatles tour in Liverpool.  I Googled this image of John and Paul as it’s one you can see when you visit Paul’s birthplace on Forthlin Road. Looking at it again reminded me of just how potent a photographic image can be, and these are the words I wrote today that now form the climax of my talk.

‘One November afternoon in 1962, John Lennon and Paul McCartney got together to write at Paul’s house at 20 Forthlin Road in Liverpool. This was almost a ritual as they knew Paul’s dad was at work and they could get on with their work – composing. John sat on a chair pulled in from the dining room. Paul sat on a little table in front of the telly with his foot on the hearth of the coal fireplace. In a photo shot by Paul’s brother, Michael – who even had his own darkroom – they’re both looking down at a notebook on the floor, and it’s the lyrics to I Saw Her Standing There.

Mike McCartney - Saw HerI was standing there in that very room on a Beatles tour – Paul’s house is a National Trust property – and the whole house is reproduced as it looked at the end of the 1950s.  With me being a Beatleophile, this was an unforgettable day.  By this point, I had already been to John Lennon’s house, but this was even more special Why?  Because this photo was there on the wall in that very corner where John and Paul sat together…

When I saw it – and I had never seen this photo anywhere before – I just froze… It was an incredible moment and I thought: ‘this is what makes photography so special, so powerful and so glorious.’ This simple image – not a remarkable one save for the way Mike McCartney caught the movement of the strumming hands – transported me back to that time, to that moment and, even better, I hadn’t moved physically in space… I was in that very space where John and Paul had sat.  In being transported back in time, I knew that I was looking at two young men who were about to change the world… or at least change mine.

If I had been more immersed in politics or sport or the cinema, an entirely different photograph would have resonated with me and made it to the top of my list. For example, if I was a lover of military history and had visited 10 Downing Street to then behold a photo of Winston Churchill sitting in his office during the war going over his ‘We shall never surrender’ speech, that photo would have given me that same special moment.  But, as I grew up when the Beatles came to dominate the charts, and dominate my world, seeing that photo – in the very place where they once were – touched me in a way that I will never forget.’

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