By the 1930s cameras and rollfilms were good enough for street photography. In 1952 the book “Images à la Sauvette” – images on the run – was published in Paris featuring Cartier-Bresson’s photos. The English edition was called “The Decisive Moment”.
In the 1930s Christopher Isherwood lived in Berlin and wrote his fictionalised Berlin Stories. The were made into a stage play (1951) then a film (1955) called “I am a Camera”. I watched the DVD of this last week. The book, the play, and the film all feature this quote at the beginning:
“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.”
This is really Isherwood himself talking. In the 1930s you had to be wealthy to own a good camera. Isherwood was talking figuratively. He was watching the grim side of Berlin, and the appearance of Nazi thugs on the streets. He was writing it all down – developing it, fixing it, and getting it printed.
A couple of days later I was in a supermarket watching what appeared to be a well-rehearsed routine. Two women with big trolleys of stuff were in front of me. The first was nearly finished, and the second had loaded up up the conveyor belt with most of her shopping. She then pushed the trolley past the checkout person with some shopping still in the bottom of the trolley. The first women, who had already paid, removed it and packed it into her bags. Then it occurred to me: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording…” I didn’t do anything, or say anything – I just watched.
Public life, with its corruption and complete incompetence, is in a dreadful condition across the world. We can read read the newspapers, but we can’t do much about it, we can only watch and vote occasionally. So I’m going to chill out, and take it easy for the summer.