Stop showing me your old pictures, says Roger Lewis
The other day, I came across box upon box of old photographs. The children growing up, birthday parties, trips to safari parks, days out on the beach. There was that predictably melancholy frisson, seeing my parents younger than I am now, plus other dead relatives and long-lost friends – people less bald, unfat, not yet divorced or let down by life.
But though the archive is of interest to me, it is of no consequence to anyone else – and I was reminded that the most boring hours of my life have been spent having to look at other people’s photographs, particularly holiday photographs, simulating polite interest and curiosity.
In my childhood, an uncle and auntie who were teachers, and hence had loads of paid free time, would come round armed with their photographs for what were called ‘slide evenings’. A bedsheet was pinned on the wall, a projector set up on my mother’s ironing board, and we’d sit there in the dark gazing at these several hundred Kodachrome images of alpine ski huts or three-star half-board hotels in the Balearics.
It was all very boastful. We never went further than Tenby, and there only occasionally. Abroad was very fancy in the sixties. It also looked tedious. ‘Here’s Auntie Marion by a wall.’ ‘Here’s this nice couple we met from Tredegar who got locked out on their balcony.’ ‘Here’s Uncle Eifion trying a stuffed pepper.’
People are still liable to inflict their albums on the innocent, the trapped. In France quite recently, when conversation had flagged, our neighbours showed us their immaculately arranged photographs of a trip to Thailand, which was evidently a highlight of their existence. It was like a very protracted documentary on a duff telly channel, no fact or figure excluded. Nowadays, with video footage on mobile phones, the parallel is frighteningly exact.
The point, I think, about holiday pictures, apart from the one-upmanship, the implicit bragging, is that by proving a fortnight has been spent in Borneo or Alaska, people feel they have been made momentarily exotic by travel – the flying fish, the sarongs, the garlands of paper flowers.
To me, though, it is all more evidence of how humdrum everyone actually is.