Don’t smile, don’t panic

I’m working on this project to get more street photos into Wikipedia, and for some reason I let myself actually be scared by the questionable politics of leftist blogs like BoingBoing and Making Light. When it comes to politics these sites are the left’s alternative to the right wing letters to the editor and e-mail forwards that TNH herself talks about. They both have the effect of painting a skewed picture of the world.

And according to these mantras on my side of the political spectrum the post-9/11 world is filled with Nazis on every street corner who will stop you from every constitutional right you have, including the right to take photos.

One of the first things I did while planning this thing was therefore to try and imagine every legal road block I might come across, to see what could and what should be avoided. That makes sense for copyright, because copyright lasts so long. But should I worry about other things than the right to publish? After a few days I realized a person can get too paranoid. Look at the evidence. The world abounds with photos taken on the street; would this really be possible if the streets were patrolled day and night by the cronies of the authoritarian set?

One way to get in trouble though, I imagined, would be to look like you’re doing something wrong while taking pictures. If you sneak around like a spy or a pervert, people are going to treat you like one. And I imagined that it would be best to be the friendly photographer, to smile and make eye contact with the people you are going to photograph. Once again I let fear do the reasoning for me. As it turns out, being in the subject’s face is good enough. I should have remembered Wikipedia’s mantra: be bold!

Brooklyn photographer Bruce Gilden actually tries to capture the expression of dismay or surprise or disdain that people get when they realize he’s going to take their picture. He considers a photo spoiled if a smile is his response.


Screenshots from the WNYC piece on Gilden.

Update: one of the commenters at the WNYC blog said it even better: be yourself. (Unless you are a spy or a pervert.)

Ads from 1985 computer magazine Your 64

“A school for scandal?” asked the Telegraph.
“All very pukkah,” assured BBC TV News.
“Bizarre!” shrieked the Sun.

Lately, people have been mentioning St. Trinians, a comic strip about a public school for very bad girls, which made me remember Your 64. Reading this dayglo magazine for teenage boy owners of a Commodore 64 at a time when I was indeed a teenage boy (mid nineties) helped my English grades shoot through the roof. It also featured two slightly naughty ads.

The British computer mags at the time regularly ran an ad titled St. O’Trinians! for a game called The Secret of St. Brides. In it you see a teenage girl in school uniform, and you get to look up her skirt!

And a school friend and I could recite entire lines from the Albert Battersby ad!

(These were by far the raunchiest ads run in the magazine’s short life. It’s in the nature of boys to remember only these.)

I never knew until two weeks ago what St. Trinians referred to, although it was obvious that the ad for St. Brides referred to some knowledge the Brits or perhaps even all Anglos shared. Then I read the BoingBoing story about the comic and saw a BBC bit about the movies, and I knew.

And what was it the ad talked about? The internet will just not shut up, and so now I know that St. Brides was an early theater weekend mansion slash software house. As the ad says, St. Brides is where grown women go to play public school girls from the Roaring Twenties. When the owners first saw a computer, they decided that they wanted to write games too. So they got a copy of the Quill, and wrote a text adventure set at their “school.”

The ZX “Speccy” Spectrum version of the game is now available at Baf’s.

Yesterday’s harvest

Loads of people don’t feel like taking their unsold goods back home at the end of Queen’s Day, so they leave them behind for the garbage man. Dumpster diving! The stack of five on the right comes from going through the garbage, the stack on the left I bought, paying the sum of 2.80 euro for ten items. My best finds: part 3 of Pratchett’s Discworld series (they’re quite expensive and pretty hard to find; two years ago I managed to buy part 1 second hand), and a collection of short stories by Philip K. Dick (also hard to find).