Art Pact 241 - He's got a photo-bomb


(with apologies to Mark Leyner)

He's got a photo-bomb.

He gets into the frame, clicks the button on the top of his camera, his lovely DSLR that his wife bought him for Christmas, framing the holly stalk so that it's perfectly on the two-thirds line in the viewfinder, because he's heard that that's the ideal point to place the focal point of the picture. He turns off auto-focus - because, really - and gently adjusts the focal ring until the drop of dew that's sitting on top of the nearest berry is so perfectly in focus that a millimetre either way would spoil the interplay of light on top of it. The shutter button depresses, and releases, and the speaker in the camera makes a little click to show that it took the picture. Satisfied, he lowers the viewfinder from his eye and scrolls back into the camera's gallery to review the picture.

He's got a photo-bomb.

The holly is there, okay, that much is true. But it's out of focus, a soft white blur around a brown shape that might, if you were being generous, be recognisable as the stalk. Dark green blobs represent what should have been leaves. The dew-drop? It might once have been there, but historians of dew would not be able to tease any evidence for their theories out of this photo, no matter how advanced future photo-reconstruction technology became. There is no sign of the single beautiful dew drop that sits in front of him, large as life, when he lifts his eyes back up to his subject.

What there is, in the picture, is a squirrel's head, poking up from the bottom left of the image. It's staring straight into the camera lens like a hypnotised deer or a poorly-trained actor. In its tiny too-human hands it's holding a nut, and the whole impression of the scene is one of malevolent amusement. It's as though the squirrel was waiting for him to take the picture so that it could pop up. It's so aware of the camera it might as well have been holding a sign saying HELLO MUM. He looks around, but there's no squirrel to be seen anywhere. He lifts the camera to his eye again, frames the picture perfectly, focuses in again on that singular jewel of a water drop, that slippery liquid diamond that he thinks will so capture the eye in this picture that it will be an instant favourite on Flickr, will grace computer wallpapers across the globe. He listens carefully, can hear nothing, presses the shutter release, checks the gallery.

He's got a photo-bomb.

It's not the squirrel this time. Instead the camera is focused beyond the holly into the near background, the sky behind the bush, a patch of beautiful clear blue winter sky in which the camera has captured a flying pigeon in the act of defecation. The stream of white shit is caught in perfect focus, a little lance of faecal matter and avian ammonia sharply captured in a way that it could never have been if he had attempted the shot deliberately.

He looks up, and around. The sky is clear of all pigeons, the ground absent any sign of squirrels or other rodents. He turns the camera onto auto-focus, quickly raises it up and snaps a shot of the holly-berry before anything else can get into frame.

He's got a photo-bomb.

There's a fly dead on the centre of the lens. It's a technical marvel, he has to admit, that the camera is capable of such an amazing macro focus that it can get the detail of the fly's underside, individually distinguish the six legs that are spread out so as to block him from taking the shot. He scrolls back through the gallery. He's taken three shots with the camera so far, and all of them have been useless.

He takes a few more shots, and each time the same thing. He tries to take a photo of the frost glistening on the playing fields in the park down the road from his house, but it comes out as a photo of two dogs escaping their owners to engage in an elicit tryst. He tries to take a photo of the Christmas tree in his house, but just as he does his cousin drunkenly lurches in the way, grinning madly. He puts the camera away, ignoring the frowns from his wife.

The shops are open on Boxing Day, so he braves the crowds of disappointed gift-getters and parents who are desperate to buy packets of batteries for children's toys that have sat staring accusingly at them during the showing of "The Great Escape". He endures the hideous renditions of Christmas Carols reimagined as seductive blues numbers by young girl-bands, and depressing quasi-religious ballads by leathery old pop-stars desperate to cling onto the one possible market they have left. He stands in line and stares enviously at the people who walk past them on the river side of town, wrapped up in their muffles and big fur coats and obviously enjoying some sort of post-breakfast walk with their family. He would rather be walking with his family. He could be getting some great shots, he thinks, crystal clear photos, none of this instagrammed nonsense with computer-generated grains and shonky colour balance that he has to watch filling up his facebook feed while he stands in line. Instead he's forced to deal with his recalcitrant camera.

In the camera shop he hands the camera over, shows the assistant the gallery and explains what he was trying to do in each case. The assistant picks up the camera, points it out of the window, tries to take a picture of the queue of shoppers waiting outside. When they look at the picture, one of the shoppers has his bum pressed up against the store's plate-glass window. The assistant nods, flicks through the manual he has for the camera, and looks up at him.

You've got a photo-bomb, the assistant says.

I know that, he replies, rolling his eyes.

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