Friday, June 08, 2012

Stay Gonk

Mornin' Varmints. 
Today yer good Cap'n be land-based for the weekend, holed up in port with nothing to do but twiddle me thumbs and whistle a happy tune. 
Can you feel it friends? 
The world is poised. 
Something huge is in the air and I can't put my finger on it. 
It is worrying. Like a hurricane coming in and not a breath in the sails. 
I don't like it at all. 
Even my stump has stopped itching . . . 


In much the same way that my generation seems to have destroyed the creative heart of a generation of human beings in letting them think that silicone-based gaming is a great way to spend days and weeks, so we have also created, photographically, a very dangerous precedent in the way that the camera phone has now become the primary way of making images.
Remember this is image capture, it is definitely not photography, and whilst profits might well be great for the lumbering technological behemoths, for the name of photography, things couldn't really be much worse.
As I have mentioned before, mankind is essentially (these days) lazy. The point-it-at-the-subject-and-press-a-button generation haven't the slightest clue about what they have just done:

"Ha ha ha ha, that's funny" 

as one youth said to another as a smart phone was passed around, smudging the screen with his greasy fingers..
It is a slice of time, but it definitely is not a photograph and has nothing to do with photography.
Even compared with digital camera capture it isn't a photograph.
A camera (yeah even a digital one, hardened FB readers take note) is a specific device. It used to be (when people weren't mad) designed for making something of permanence whether you realised it or not.
There was a massive difference between a Kodak Instamatic and a Leica, but they both did the same thing.
Both could be crass.
Both could be beautiful.
But both told the truth, for despite the possibility that someone somewhere might have done some very creative darkroom work, at the end of the day in that cylindrical, light-tight cassette, there was an end product that couldn't really lie: the negative.
I think the root of my problem with all digital capture is that I don't trust 01010101000010101 (Binary Storage) and yet here I am out-putting my heart to the world in the self-same manner.
Am I a hypocrite?
Well it certainly looks that way.
But the thing with the humble negative, is that you can hold it; you can store it in nice little archival sleeves; you can shove it in a plastic bag along with your holiday photos; you can scratch it; drop tea on it; sneeze on it; fingerprint it. In fact you can make a total mess of it, and, short of setting fire to it, something will still be there.
My friend spends a great deal of his time making images of truly ancient artefacts in appropriate settings. They really work, because somehow, and I don't know how he does it, he manages to coax the dormant soul from these objects, however, he finds himself often in the multiple back-up position because they are all digital images.
It is like in the Young Ones when Neil started talking about emptying his pencil case in an exam hall:

"I sat in the big hall and put my packet of Polos on the desk. And my spare pencil and my support Gonk. And my chewing gum and my extra pen. And my extra Polos and my lucky Gonk. And my pencil sharpener shaped like a cream cracker. And three more Gonks with a packet of Polos each. And lead for my retractable pencil. And my retractable pencil. And spare lead for my retractable pencil. And chewing gum and pencils and pens and more Gonks, and then the guy said “Stop writing, please.”"

So my friend has hard-drive backup, a lucky backup hard-drive and writes to discs too, as well as storing on memory cards.
It is overkill, and I call that a bit of a nightmare, but it makes him feel secure so that is what counts.
Actually before we move on, I must have a little aside into the world of Gonks!
There is strangely precious little material about these wonderful creatures out there.
The designs I remember my sister having back in the 60's are nowehere to be seen.
'Proper' 1960's Beat Gonks seem to have been lumped in with 1970's and 1980's fairground prizes, which were not Gonks!
I will be categorical on this. 1960's Gonks were hip and often round, had hands, wore smart 'clothing' and often had mop-top haircuts. In a word they were so Sixities, that they couldn't have existed at any other time.
1970's and 80's fairground prizes were often just fluffy objects with rattly eyes or beaks or both. They tended also to be furry, which no 1960's Gonk would be seen dead as.
I remember one in particular that I won at a fair in the early 70's that actually seemed to be made of cat fur. Whatever it was it certainly wasn't synthetic.

(Quite posh Gonks [Gonkus groovitimus]  and a description of what it is to be 'Gonk')

They were really quite the thing at one point. There were a couple of albums and also a film.
I think they were originally designed as a fun accessory for Swinging London and ended up going nationwide.
The film 'Gonks Go Beat' was a reworking of Romeo and Juliet and featured The Graham Bond Organization, The Nashville Teens, Lulu and the Luvvers, and The Trolls (?). It is noteworthy for the fact that it features Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce (later of Cream) and features two things that I find amusing - firstly a statement addressed to Jack Bruce after a groovy piece of playing:

"Next time I want to hear those big, big sounds that bring the coconuts down "

and Kenneth Connor standing next to sign that says:


Here's the not so groovy cover to the dvd release:

(The above is not the original design but a noughties cut-up. 1960's design wouldn't have been half so messy)

(That's more like it! Why would anyone feel the need to mess about with this?)

We're nearly coming to a point though folks, so bear with me, as, at this point in this painful interlude I have to say that 1960's Gonks need to be distinguished from a separate species, the Scottish Gonk (Gonkus hootisii) which started appearing roughly around 1970. These were definitely Scots, and never seemed to make the journey across the Border. Certainly for me they were a thing of remark during our holidays. 
They were basically tubes with arms and were often 'weaponised'. 
Mine had a spear, some had clubs. 
All had furry heads and tartan bonnets. There were millions of them every place we visited . . and now all I can find in a world-wide pantheon of information are just two pictures, of which I shall use just one . . .

(Gonkus hootisii [disarmed])

The above is a posh one and should be distinguished from the more common or garden variety which did not have legs. Actually, I would say this is a picture of a Proto-hootisii . It must be a very early one as the latter ones became cheapened, dispensed with legs altogether and just had the tube body all the way down. Please note, he is also missing his spear!
Alas the genus mutated beyond recognition and this is what the later species looked like.

(These are obviously convict Gonks. Banished to Australia they were later rescued and photographed in their sorry state. Apparently they date from the late 1970's and are of the sub-species Gonkus fairgroundicus.)

In researching all this though, worldwide there is precious little information on them. I checked for the latest version of the Gonkipedia but it didn't exist. 
They seem to have been one of those moments in time that has passed into legend . . . 
An Atlantis of the 20th Century? 
A Beat Sasquatch? 
The Big Grey Gonk of Ben Macdhui? 
Who knows . . . anyway  . . .


There I feel better for that. 
But what has this to do with photography? 
Well, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
To coin a rather well known song:

They paved paradise 
And put up a parking lot 
With a pink hotel, a boutique 
And a swinging hot spot 

Don't it always seem to go 
That you don't know what you've got 
Till it's gone 
They paved paradise 
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees 
Put 'em in a tree museum  
And they charged the people 
A dollar and a half just to see 'em 

Don't it always seem to go 
That you don't know what you've got 
Till it's gone 
They paved paradise 
And put up a parking lot

Hey farmer farmer 
Put away that DDT now 
Give me spots on my apples 
But leave me the birds and the bees 

Don't it always seem to go 
That you don't know what you've got 
Till it's gone 
They paved paradise 
And put up a parking lot

Late last night
I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

© Siquomb Publishing Company 

I had no intention originally of including the whole song, but felt the words were entirely appropriate. Joni's concerns are nearly 50 years old, but their truth rings down the years.
And ever onward we go!
Why on earth would anyone earth want to make an image with one of these:

When they could use one of these instead:

Excuse me for shoving a Leica M3 in there, but it is such a beautiful thing to look at and by all accounts a beautiful thing to use too, though I have never held one. (I also rather like the IIIf which is more 1950's looking but still beautiful nontheless.)
My point is, that much like Gonks, cameras too have become homogenised. They have been turned from lovely square but round-edged Spangles, into the half sucked and spat out 'things' that used to mysteriously appear on pavements when I was young. 
We are in danger of lumbering ourselves with something which in design terms is non-specific, 'user friendly' (though that is a matter of much discourse) and in a word characterless.
I just hate how the world seems to do that. 
Beat Gonks become generic 70's furry animals. 
Genius pieces of mechanical and optical design become a tiny lens in a piece of metal and polycarbonate with 0's and 1's removing all the passion. 
Artisan bread becomes Warburtons and Kingsmill. 
A lovingly crafted pint of Yorkshire Bitter becomes a bottle of Bud. 
Pizza, the poor man's food made with flour and yeast and simple ingredients, becomes a cheese crust, multi-layered monstrosity baked on an Industrial scale. 
I could go on, but I won't. 
All I can say is that we, as photographers, are in serious danger of becoming last centuries thang. Professional cameras shoot in HD video. So do phones and the boundaries are becoming so blurred that what was a camera, is now a video camera and will probably soon be a phone too! And before you know it, it will be its own capture and processing lab, hard-wired to your eye and central nervous system, automatically snatching images of anything and fixing any mistakes to some pre-set criteria of preferences, so that the world looks perfect
Gone is any creative involvement other than just pressing that button or blinking that eye.
A one-hundred-and-twenty-fifth of a second slice of time, chosen and fixed with permanence within a piece of emulsion is fast becoming something so hopelessly antiquated that it will, before we know it, be cast upon history's scrapheap of useless and arcane knowledge.
Mark my words friends. 
It is coming.
Pick your bogles while you can they don't stay fresh for long.

The above is as imperfect a photograph as you could ever wish to take. It is definitely not homogenised. It is a real piece of film that has been totally abused. I love it.
It was made on C41-process Colour film, which I developed in Black and White specific chemicals, namely HC 110, Dilution G, for 18 minutes at 21C. Apparently you're not supposed to do that. The film's nominal EI was 200, and I rated it at EI 100 simply for the fact of its age. It was Agfa Vista Colour 200, which expired in June 2005. The photograph was made last month, namely May 2012. The colour cast was very great when I removed the film from the fixer so I agitated it for about 15 minutes in a very weak solution of Potassium Ferricyanide bleach which sort of worked, I then re-fixed it. This explains why the grain structure is so soft.
It was made on a £5 charity shop special - a Nikon AF600 point and shoot. I used the Agfa film because it was there and I wanted to test whether the camera was functioning properly. It is.
Stay Gonk my friends (preferably Beat).

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