Sunday, 8 January 2012

Praise Blindness

The pianist Alfred Brendel will have been pleased to discover that the Photo-Me passport photo booths have re-introduced the option of five different poses at a single sitting. He is known for making use of this feature. The company stopped providing this service around 2005, apparently because they felt we were not taking their machines seriously enough, pulling faces at the screen and squeezing our friends into the tiny, curtained studio. True, the company gave us a ‘fun’ alternative of one large or sixteen identical miniature snaps, but few customers shared this concept of amusement and many withdrew their patronage, some even travelling to the continent where local photo-machines continued to offer the five-shot option. Now Photo-Me has realised its marketing clanger and allowed us once again to misbehave on its terms (£5 the set). The option is an alternative to the passport photo for which Photo-Me proudly publish the strict Home Office rules. Subjects must not smile, open their mouths, have hair over their faces, wear glasses or cut off the tops of their heads by winding the seat too high. They take passport photography very seriously.

The ITV documentary Dying to be Thin, last Thursday, showed how seriously some girls take photographs of themselves. The programme-makers tampererd with pictures of six-year-old ballet-dancers in leotards, fattening and thinning them and asking the subjects which they preferred. All but one selected their thinnest version, numbered ‘1’ in each case, which prejudiced the experiment. The pictures should have been mixed up to ensure the girls weren’t choosing ‘1’ for other reasons. The girl who didn’t choose Picture No1 should have  been interviewed. What sort of person was she? The grown-up svelt presenter and wheel-on expert should not have been seen, as they had clearly dressed up and beautified themselves for the camera. What they had to say was not enhanced by seeing them. On the contrary, by being seen, coiffed, made up and lovely, they detracted from the message of encouraging young girls to worry less about what they looked like. The adult females clearly did.

The singing cellist, fighting her eating disorder in the Royal Bethlem Hospital, has not yet learnt John Dowland’s song Praise Blindness Eyes (for seeing is deceit) because it is in The Second Book of Ayres and we are tackling the Fourth, published in 1612. Music’s not about what we look like, I say, unless you are a pop star constrained to making a video every time you want to issue a single. Television ruins music and its overblown importance encourages the idea that anything not on the box is worthless. I once took part in an experiment where everybody walked around in pitch black as if they were blind. Everyone sounds sexy in the dark, I say, and you engage in coy exchanges with potential lovers. They may all have hair lips and facial surgery but fantasy precludes this thought. Imagination runs riot. Life isn't all bad for blind people. And they are spared television.

John Cage once went on a game show to perform his piece Water Walk.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSulycqZH-U

There is no sense in which he is trying to impress the camera and he is not shy of ridicule. ‘Laughter is preferable to tears,’ he replies to the presenter’s suggestion that the audience might scoff. Cage beams benignly. He took neither television nor himself too seriously.