The Golden James Ratio

I contemplated giving up photography when this image revealed itself. I felt I’d never create anything better. I got over the notion soon enough though (what else was I going to do?)

I’d stayed the weekend with friends in North London and was stood in their kitchen doorway drinking coffee, preparing myself mentally for the journey back to Bournemouth. I chatted with James as he ploughed through the dishes. In a matter of seconds the light outside the kitchen window shifted from steely grey and flat to a sculpted shade of gold. A photographic image presented itself to me.

I sensed this particular light would linger but a short time – indeed it persisted for at most thirty seconds – and made a lunge for my bag where I was presented with the option of a digital SLR or an old Polaroid instant film camera. I chose the latter and this was the result.

I’m much keener to discuss images than the technology that serves as a mere vehicle to their creation but there is a great deal about this particular camera that compels me to relate, well, just a little about its properties if I may.

Manufactured during the 1980s, the Polaroid SLR 680 sports a four element glass lens (as opposed to the plastic lenses associated with most Polaroid consumer models and the resultant soft images they produced) and employs a sonar based autofocus system that allows it to focus rapidly and accurately even in pitch darkness. That’s about as much technical detail as I’d care to discuss really :~)

It’s not that I have a fetish for the camera, honestly. I photographed this particular unit in detail to list it for sale on eBay (I’d bought three units via the same auction system suspecting that I’d need to try out a few before finding one that was fully functional but all three worked perfectly well so I re-sold two of them).

No great surprise, I used the camera to document aspects of my daughter's journey through life and across a number of geographical boundaries at that, often-times asleep but sometimes awake.

All of the images I produced were poignant to me by virtue of my connection with the scenes I encountered and sought to interpret but I hope that some evoke a sense of meaning extending beyond the immediately personal.

On a camping trip to Cornwall.

A visit to Thailand.

I did sometimes focus on subjects other than my daughter; crates of beer for example.

Over the Christmas period I received an email from James. He has an enlarged copy of the original Polaroid print of the image that opens this post, framed on his living room wall. Some years after the image was created he identified what he felt was so compelling about it (aside from the slightly bizarre content of the image itself, perhaps).

The Golden Ratio! “In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one.” It’s all so clear now!

Apparently the Golden Ratio underlies the clock cycle of brain waves, thus any image that conforms to its pattern is liable to have an immediate and highly evocative resonance with our minds.

I have two packs containing ten shots apiece of Polaroid 600 instant film in my fridge, the last of the stock that I purchased when Polaroid announced their withdrawal from the instant photography market in 2008. Sad news indeed though there is a glimmer of hope in that the Impossible Project is seeking to bring to market new instant film products that will work with these vintage Polaroid cameras.

I think I’ll put that remaining film to good use photographing a 2010 wedding.

Contact Bournemouth wedding photographer Phillip Allen : phill@misterphill.com : 07870 696248

John Parker - Raiding the archives? A beautiful series of images as per usual – here’s hoping that someone keeps manufacturing the stuff. (Looks like the Impossible Project are on the verge of an announcement of sorts.)

Kyle - I do love that image although never in a million years would I have figured out that I loved it because of the golden ratio, haha!

Phillip Allen - I have a warehouse worth of old images yet John ;~) Evocation of the sheer joy of dish washing no doubt helps too Kyle :~)

Niall - Nice to hear the photographer’s side of this pic – seen it on Healy’s wall so many times… lovely image. It’s a weird feeling when a shot like that presents itself and you wonder how much of photography is just about having a camera to hand at exactly the right moment.

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