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  • Dave Armstrong

Moving Pictures

Local Women selling ground nuts on a cold Malawi morning

It was my Dad’s fault, really. Although he was a telephone engineer, he loved to take photographs.

He got kind of good at it too and, when he got the chance to move the family from sunny Newcastle to slightly sunnier Africa, a whole new world of photo ops burst into view.

Animals, insects, flowers. People. Interesting people. He managed to even get a gig moonlighting for the government and the philatelic bureau: stamps of smiling children(for “year of the child”) and even of the Pope when he visited. (My Dad, bit like me, was not exactly a man of God. He used to sit in the car outside church reading the paper while someone in a frock droned on at me in Latin. YES. That Latin. My Mam used to say he had a headache. Wish I’d have thought of that.)

Anyway, thanks Dad. Not for the avoidance of Sunday Mass, but he gave me this bug: an appreciation of the beauty of the world through the still image.

"What's a lens cap, Dad?"

Now my life is full of movies, but I know that each second of that movie is made up of 24 (ish) beautifully framed (hopefully!) STILL images. The more beautiful we can make each of those single snapshots of time, the more our cinematography will shine. If I can get a batch of great screen grabs from something I have shot, stick them in a frame and on the wall, I will be happy that I have done a reasonable job.

But still photography is a greater art form. Next time we get our iPhone out to snap a random moment, maybe we should think for a moment. Chose the frame carefully, look at the exposure, balance the image, add a bit of foreground for depth and just think before we click. Of the 8,886 still images on my phone, I reckon I’d be lucky to find 1 in 100 that is actually half decent.

One of my favourite photos of my mum at Lake Malawi. ( . . . and me photo bombing before it was fashionable)

OK. Some of it IS about capturing a moment . I know. The second “TIME” link below suggests that being in the right place at the right time matters. BUT, imagine being in the right place at the right time and making a hash of the shot. Forgetting to load the film, or wind on. Most of those photos went taken with a smart digital camera-always at the ready.

What these STILL images convey is far greater than than the sum of their pixels.

You know what I am going to say next…? (I know you are going to say what an old f*** I sound like.) (Luxury! When I were a lad, we used to have to get up before dawn, hold our little blackboard up to eye level and sketch the glory of the rising sun as it popped its cheeky head over the horizon. And then if I didn’t capture the full glory of the sunrise and the detail of the chaffinch in the sky with that one blunt rump of chalk, my dad used to break the blackboard over me head and make me draw it in t’sand with me nose…try telling THAT to the smart phone camera ne’re-do-wells of today.)

Yes! I am going to remind you that, once upon a time, you had 24 or 36 shots on your roll of film. You made sure you didn’t waste 99 out of 100. You couldn’t just look back and delete what you didn’t like. I mean, we don’t even do that now. They have so little value that we just let them clog up our digipic life ’til we have to throw the phone away cos its full.

My Dad probably shot in his LIFETIME what we shoot in a year.

Life President, His Excellency, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda's entourage dance to celebrate Independence Day

I am not trying to shame you any more than me, but remember: this is the record of humanity. This is what they will be looking at in 1000 year’s time to take the temperature of our societies’ culture and sophistication. Ok- geeks out there-you are right! If we don’t PRINT some of them off with proper paper, who knows where technology will be. Will they even be able to retrieve and see our 45th shot in a row of the dog with her favourite shoe? Will they care by the time there are 10 to the power of a googolplex photographs in the cloud? Imagine getting the job of curator. Hopefully some AI bot will happily spit 99.9999% into the trash.

Couple of links for you. The first is a little more contemporary:

This next link includes images that are a little more challenging, but many record history in the making. Viewer discretion advised. However, what I really like about the TIME team that put this together, is what you can learn about each image. Each one tells a story. Please put aside some of your time to browse this awesome resource.

A rare photograph of my dad (obviously on the right!) He was more often than not behind the lens

Now I am not trying to knock what we do as we capture the fleeting moments of our lives and keep them in a virtual jar for when we have time to actually appreciate them. Not trying to say I haven’t collected my fair share of wasted snaps. BUT, when we do have time to think and chose what we want to remember and, more importantly, HOW we remember our precious moments, we can do our best to make sure that the future curator of mankind billions of photos will at least enjoy a sliver of job satisfaction.

International Year of The Child 1979 stamp collection

In memory of Al Armstrong - Photographer

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