Saturday, 5 October 2019

The world through a flaw: A train ride in winter

On Sunday 29 June, 2008, I caught a train from the suburb where I lived in the southwest of Sydney to the Art Gallery of New South Wales to see a show titled ‘Taisho Chic’: an exhibition of Japanese works and artefacts made in the pre-war era (Emperor Taisho occupied the Chrysanthemum Throne between 1912 and 1926). I wrote about the exhibition on 5 July of that year on this blog.

But I did something else as well on that day: I took a whole lot of photos. I’ll never again use the camera – a Canon PowerShot A530 – because the device broke. I dropped it one day when I was out and about and the lens, which had been extended at that moment in time, knocked heavily against the pavement in such a way that made the camera incapable of retracting it. But when the thing worked it had a four-times optical zoom and each photo had five megapixels.

The following photo shows the camera in its current, decrepit, state. It is stored in my sideboard with other electrical devices, with cables and adaptors, and with tins and jars full of coins I will eventually get around to taking to the bank to deposit in my account.

I don’t know why I keep this wreck, perhaps there is something of the hoarder in my psychological makeup. Perhaps it reminds me of another time, of struggles lived and hardships survived. Hoarding done within reason can be a good thing, as the folders on my computer full of photos going back to 2006 attest to. I have kept almost everything from those years and, each time I get a new machine after one PC dies, the photos get transferred across to the new one. 

What follow are 17 out of a total of 669 photos I took that day. It’s an astonishing number of images and I can’t guess my reasoning in the case this far away in time from that day. But while I was sitting in the train I saw some graffiti scratched into the glass of the window opposite the bench I was on, and every minute or so I snapped an image of this artefact of casual desecration as the train made its way toward the centre of the city. 

Seeing the world through the lens of a flaw. There are dozens of shots showing the sky and some showing people. There are also buildings. The second-last photo shows Central Station with its sandstone fa├žade and clocktower and in the final shot you can see the McKell building, a lovely brutalist structure that stands on George Street. 

These days you would use a mobile phone to take photos like this but doing so on a train for this long might draw unwanted attention if you tried it nowadays. It wasn’t just in the train that I was taking photos, and other shots originating on that day will, in the near future, be posted on this blog. 

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