The Final Frame - Roger Hicks
At what point does lack of thought tip over into sheer stupidity? I ask the question with due humility, because about once a month I find myself doing something really stupid. We all do. I remember once watching my accountant reach for a pocket calculator to work out 10% of £336. He looked quite sheepish as soon as he realised what he was doing.
That is the point, really. It takes most of us only a few seconds (or even fractions of a second) before we realise just how stupid we are being. And this is why I am constantly surprised to see people posting questions on the internet that they could have worked out in a few nanoseconds for themselves.
One of my favourites recently concerned film reminder dials on cameras with no meters. People ask what they’re for, and why they have to set them.
First, I am allergic to the phrase, ‘Why do I have to…?’ It betrays a slavish mind-set: the idea that you must always do what you are told, and that there is only one way to do things. There are very few things you have to do. Most things are a matter of choice. You don’t even have to earn a living. Very few people choose to end up living on the street, but some do, as a sort of an un-career choice. Then there are the things you do because you’re a decent human being. Or, I suppose, the things you do because you’re an evil maniac.
But for most of us, most of the time, there are reasons for doing what we do. It may be habit (always sleeping on one side of the bed rather than the other); it may be personal taste (drinking whisky instead of brandy); it may be the result of a degree of compulsion (getting to work on time); it may be self-preservation (driving on the appropriate side of the road); it may be pretty much anything, but there’s almost invariably a choice.
One of the more important elements of choice is that an informed choice is almost invariably better than an uninformed choice. Let’s face it, deciding to use ancient film cameras is, by most people’s standards, a pretty eccentric choice, and the further out of the mainstream your choice is, the more you want to know about all the relevant facts before you commit yourself.
The thing is, though, there are not really very many relevant facts to learn. Any half-decent book on basic photography from the 1950s or 1960s will tell you all you need to know, or there’s plenty on the internet under the heading ‘Basics’: ‘This is a camera. This is how it works. This is a shutter. This is how it works. This is a lens…’ and so on.
For more specific information, there’s the internet again, or old Focal Camera Guides or collectors’ books. But if you are not prepared to think for yourself, how much can they tell you? Here is an ASA dial. It is not connected to anything. There is no meter in the camera. What can it be, except a reminder of what film you have loaded?
Taking responsibility for what you are doing brings up another of my interests – motorcycling. I took it up at about the same time as photography, in the ’60s. In those days, most advice was predicated upon two simple premises. One was that you would do your very best to avoid falling off, and the other was that even if you were not always successful, you would spend much more time riding than you would falling off.
That was around the time that helmets became compulsory, and that learners were limited to 250cc motorcycles. Today, it’s 125cc and a two-part test and goodness knows how many other restrictions on the young man (or woman) who wants to become a motorcyclist. So a lot of people don’t bother. They have swallowed the propaganda that they are too stupid and too untrustworthy to learn a relatively simple skill.
By the same token, photographers in the ’60s were not regarded as paedophiles or terrorists. Today, they are. As a result, many don’t bother. Too many people live up to the roles that society (read: the gutter press and the nanny state) invents for them. It’s time for a bit more rebellion. So here I am, on my 1978 BMW R100RS 1,000cc motorcycle with my 1961 Leica M2. A rebel without a cause? No, a rebel who suspects that those who call him stupid or arrogant may, in fact, be more stupid and arrogant than he.
Roger and Frances website