I have, on several occasions, been invited by my husband to accompany him on his summertime fishing expeditions, ostensibly for company but I think more probably in order to take pictures of that much coveted but most elusive ‘big catch.’ How many times have I sat poised and ready to spring into action with my trusty camera as he relentlessly reeled in fish that, I’ll swear, weren’t even as big as the worm he had so confidently cast in; countless minuscule bluegill and sometimes the same one; a brainless chump that didn’t have enough sense to steer clear of the hook even after it had already been hauled unceremoniously out of the water not two minutes before. Naturally, the only time my spouse ever caught anything camera-worthy was the time I decided to stay at home and give myself a pedicure and therein seems to lie the story of my photographic life.
I’m constantly telling myself that I should never leave home without taking at least one camera with me, so why on earth didn’t I think to bring the blessed thing when I came face to face and even shook hands with such notable figures as the great mystery writer Dick Francis, flowery romance novelist Barbara Cartland and world-renowned tenor Luciano Pavarotti or stood starry-eyed at the foot of the stage – an audience of one – as a brash and as yet unknown young group named The Rolling Stones played the opening number of their set at our local dance hall; even when the Queen of England, for goodness sake, drove past in an open carriage just a few feet away from where I was standing. (Well…OK….maybe not that one. I was only four years old at the time, but still, it would have made an amazingly awesome shot.)
Actually it would not be strictly accurate to say that, unlike all good girl-scouts, I am never prepared. I did get some marginally good pictures of Minnie Mouse, ‘Fergie’ Duchesse of York, winning jockey Pat Day, ‘The Galloping Gourmet’ Graham Kerr, Bozo the Clown and Cardinal George (not necessarily listed in order of importance) but why did the flash have to die just as the daring and extremely handsome young man, performing in the circus, was about to put his head in the alligator’s mouth or the film run out seconds before the favorite in the biggest race of the year flashed past the winning post to the resounding cheers of the crowd?
I only ever got one opportunity to capture the beautiful Sophia Loren on film, and thanks to the incredibly ill-timed leaps of an over-enthusiastic fan, the only thing I came away with were several blurred pictures of the back of the man’s head.
And when, having stood out in the pouring rain for hours after being told by an ill-informed attendant that my idol would be available for picture-taking opportunities, film star Yul Brynner was hastily driven through the gates of Elstree Studios, tantalizingly hidden behind tinted windows, I was about ready to scream. (Although to give him his due, he did send me a lovely signed publicity photo by special delivery the next morning.)
Even Pope John Paul escaped my clutches when the family car failed to make it to the end of our driveway owing to some mechanical deficiency or act of God and another photographic opportunity went up the spout.
Is it some evil fairy, I ask myself, that constantly thwarts my efforts to get that ‘once in a lifetime’ shot or even a decent picture of the kids?
I wonder if Ansel Adams ever fell over backwards into a rock-garden while trying to compose a picture of his grandchildren (It hurt like …. I can tell you) or did Art Wolfe ever have to worry about the dinner boiling all over the stove as he tried to get in a shot of a possum casually strolling across the lawn with six babies clinging to its back?
I bet Lord Snowdon never had to interrupt his sittings to man the pumps when the toilet overflowed all over the bathroom floor. And do we suppose, for a second, that American Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, held up his hand, in the heat of a raging battle, and called out “Just a moment, you chaps. Would you mind terribly, just holding it there, you know, while I change this diaper, feed the cat, scrub the bathtub and run up a couple of pairs of curtains on the old sewing machine. Thanks most awfully.” I think not!
Of course, I have caught the sun just as it was setting behind the fountain in the Botanic Gardens, a hummingbird sipping nectar from a Blue Brazilian Salvia and a swallowtail butterfly as it emerged, crumpled and damp, from its chrysalis.
But even so……ah well! I guess we’re never satisfied and the heart always pines for the ones that got away.