Friday, 15 July 2011

Nineteen Part Deux

I still have this very same camera, the Nikon F. It's almost as battered as Don McCullin's camera above! (This camera actually blocked a bullet, would the plastic fantastic modern cameras do the same job?) I reckoned that if he used it and it was good enough for him, it certainly was good enough for me.

Nineteen is a pivotal age isn't it? The last of the teenage years and the beginning of adulthood, too young to drink beer yet old enough to go to war. Paul Hardcastle's track about Vietnam immediately springs to mind. (If you don't know it, you can listen to it here.)

At the same age I dreamed of going to Vietnam and taking my camera to follow in the footsteps of my photographic hero Don McCullin. It was an adventure that excited and made my blood pound but it never happened. Don McCullen, since traumatised by his experiences, today takes landscape pictures he says help him find peace. My ambitions then were fuelled by simple excitement and adventure, not motivated in any way by deeper reasons of say, social conscience and responsibility. I suspect that was true of many 'war photographers' of the time. In the end it was good I didn't go, but I wonder about the adventures I missed.

The only adventure I ever came close to at that age was in the wild West End of London. Shaftsbury Avenue near China town, in the back rooms where all the money goes down. I caught her eye in the crowd and she smiled, walking by. I stared after her and she glanced back. I followed, caught her up, my heart in my mouth and said, 'Hi, could I buy you a coffee?'

She cocked her head, looked me up and down and said, 'No, but ten pounds will get you a good time'.

Blushing, confused and being unable to find any words, I gaped at her like a fish out of water. She just turned on her heels and walked on. I stood there watching her vanish into the crowds cursing the fact I was an idiot. (And also the fact I didn't have ten pounds to my name. Not a small amount of cash in 1970)

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