world beat...

Your international correspondant reporting live from West Africa.

Addendum (2008.11.08): Teshka's comment on this entry today was the summary critique, "Filler."

Yes, she is exactly right. This photograph is "filler". It joins with the infinite millions of anonymous photographs filling the infinite pages of dusty photo albums and stuffed into forgotten cigar boxes in household closets throughout the world.

It is plain, straight, ordinary, utterly without pretention. The subject is posed awkwardly, uncomfortably, squinting against the harshest direct sunlight. Nothing is hidden, nothing is evoked. It is a photograph only, unremarkable and boring, as plain as day.

This photograph is an example of a genre of what some people now describe as "vernacular photography". These are the photos taken by the masses, the everday of the everyman, the small personal record of birthdays, families, holidays, family pets and vacation travel.

In a word, the vernacular photograph is mostly rubbish. Or, as Teshka has said, "filler." Filler as in landfill.

A photograph made not as a thing of beauty, but as a thing of memory.

Because the great redeeming value of the vernacular photograph is the magical transformation that sometimes occurs with the passage of time. Suddenly -- say, after 40 years or so -- the once mundane and ordinary becomes something interesting, special, perhaps quaint, perhaps nostalgic, always a thrilling vicarious excursion into the past. We get to revisit scenes we feel we may have once known, or relive the times of our ancestors. Such images help weave the fabric of collective consciousness that clothe our shared identity.

For example, street scenes of horse-drawn carriages were surely banal when they were first photographed 100 years ago. But seen today they are delightful vintage treasures and make our history visceral. And would Ansel Adams' "Golden Gate Before the Bridge" have much merit on its own account, were the view it presents not so altered by human industry?

Someday I expect Teshka and I may see this photograph with new pleasure. Perhaps in a time not so far off, we will be enduring another far off place, maybe somewhere cold, drab and soviet. Then we will see this photo and marvel at our wonderful life in Lomé. Warm bright sunshine! Fresh fruit juices! A sandy breezy ocean beach, swaying palm trees, just blocks away!

The "Vitale" billboard in the upper-right corner will remind us of the untolled gallons of bottled water we have consumed here in our quenchless thirst. And the "royal air maroc" sign will remind us of the very few escapes that fly directly out of Lomé, via Morocco!

Oh this beautiful life, where a simple café announces its existence with a proud and joyful banner! And in a language we can actually decipher!

Lomé, Togo, October 2008.

Rapid Omega 100, Neopan 400.