A recent post by Bruce Robbins (‘The Online Darkroom”) entitled ‘Boring Photography’ got me thinking about the word ‘boring’ in the context of taking photographs …
His article and photographs reminded me of John Myers‘ work which I greatly admire. Myers took photographs of the ordinary in his home area of Stourbridge in the 1960s and 1970s. One of his portfolios is called ‘Boring Photos’ but what this caption means is far from clear.
Each photograph is exquisitely observed and meticulously captured by his 5 x 4 Gandolfi plate camera. For example:
The Collins dictionary defines the word ‘boring’ as dull and uninteresting. Of course many photographs are dull and uninteresting but not in virtue of their subject matters being mundane or ordinary. As Bruce Robbins identifies, the trend in popular photography has been to the fantastic, the sublime and to the ‘out-of-this-world’ character of scenes, whether street or landscape. But we quickly tire of this kind of shouty photography since its subjects are always beyond reach.
Myers’ photographs are of ordinary scenes and it is in this ordinariness that we start to sense the idea of ‘ordinary’ holding the promise of seeing something just as it is. And that is sufficient, surely?
Boredom suggests an emptiness of intention, a nothingness. But a creative spirit or a fresh perspective can only come from nothingness or emptiness, as Pascal 1 well understood. Whether we agree with Heidegger’s view 2 that there is such a thing as existential boredom or whether we side with Wendell O’Brien 3 that boredom is an undesirable mental state of weariness stemming causally from an uninteresting subject, it is hard to deny that boredom can often challenge someone to action or to a fresh perspective. Indeed it may be essential.
Boredom and delight with the ‘ordinary’ as subject matter are two different things. If one is bored with ordinary things, with life – as life is about ordinary things – then perhaps the anguish you feel is just what you need to appreciate what an ordinary thing can be: itself. As Fernando Pessoa said, “I wasn’t meant for reality, but life came and found me.” 4
- Pascal, B. (2004). Pensées. (Ed. and Trans. R. Ariew) Indianapolis: Hackett. ↩
- Heidegger, M. 1995. The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, W. McNeill & N. Walker trans. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ↩
- O’Brien, W. 2014. “Boredom,” Analysis 74:2, 236-243. ↩
- The Book of Disquiet, Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (December 31, 2002) ↩