HEADLESS TEDDIES



Why do we take pictures? For me, at least, the question is as meaningless as "Why do we think?" Photography and philosophy are effectively inseparable as far as I am concerned. The world is so varied, and often so strange, that at least a part of the reason why I take pictures is to remind myself of things I have seen. Otherwise I might imagine I had dreamed them, or I might forget the questions that they make me ask. 

This is at a vide-grenier again. It raises two questions that I find increasingly interesting as I get older. First, at what point does something become totally useless and worthless, fit only to be thrown away? Second, what is the nature of attachment?

It's easier to begin with the second question. I was a few months old when my father bought me a teddy bear. She is called Doris and I still have her. She is on a shelf next to Lamby-Pie, a black lamb soft toy that belongs to Frances and is even older. Lamby-Pie has fared better than Doris, who is quite mangy in places (quite apart from normal wear and tear, I decided to cut her hair as soon as I learned how to use scissors) and only one of whose arms is still articulated: the other has been sewn in place since the rotating joint failed, over 60 years ago. But at that, Doris has fared better than these two or possibly three bears (I can't help wondering if one of them isn't a pig). Who, apart from the former owner, is going to want this lot? In any case, the former owner is presumably dead, or at least doesn't want them, given that they are for sale at a vide-grenier

What, then, should I do with Doris? She sits on a shelf, gathering dust. It pains me to think that one day she will be thrown away ignominiously, but even that that, I wouldn't want a grandchild playing with her (if ever I had one) because she's pretty unhygienic. A decent cremation would be tempting but I wouldn't want that done while I'm still alive and it seems like a pretty strange and trivial request to make of my daughter, who will have enough else to deal with when I pop my clogs. 

Purely pictorially, the box is on a marked slant because it's easier to shoot that way: absolutely square-on pictures are hard to align and often look sterile anyway (which may of course be the effect you want). 

You can see from the shadows that the sun was quite bright, and I wanted to keep my shadow out of the picture; at least mostly. That also constrained my choice of viewpoint. On the other hand at Arles this year (2017) I took a whole series of pictures deliberately including my shadow.

The scrubby grass and fruit crate add not only context but also texture. They're not especially sharp, because it's a hand-held picture, but we are so familiar with all the textures in the picture -- worn teddy-bear fur, cheap, splintery  boxes, scrubby, weedy earth -- that merely suggesting them is almost enough.

For many years I've tended to compose pictures so that the subject is partially cropped by the frame (one paw, the corner of the box) because that is the way I see life: no real beginnings, no real endings, no real limits. And again. like square-on composition, carefully "all in" pictures can be sterile. There are times, though, when sterility turns into formality, which can be used for a variety of purposes including humour, as in The Secret Life of Chairs I and II

To go back to attachments, beginning and endings, this was written on the first anniversary of the death of an old friend, Senggye; but as the saying goes, a man is not dead as long as his name is spoken. Or as long as his children live. Or, in the case of an artist like Senggye, as long as his paintings are seen and admired: I have a couple on my walls. And thus does art (including photography) shade into philosophy again. 


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Words and picture copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2017