Simple pleasures (Venezia 51)

Just a short walk from the manic bustle of Rio Tera Lista di Spagna is Campo San Geremia; a space to breathe, a space to enjoy the peace, a space to relax.




Hot and Cold…

…well not exactly hot for those of us on the North Sea coasts, but compared to recent weeks today felt like the height of summer.  Layers of clothing were shed and the world and his wife headed for the beach (leaving their children at school of course).

Now I know I try to see myself as a non-discriminatory kind of guy, but if I’m honest whilst not knowingly racist or sexist I am a snob.  Consequently my normal photography playground was off-limits today; the combination of a sunny beach with pubs, chip shops, slot machines and Morrisons all within easy reach will be a magnet to those who will leave the place awash with litter, before returning tomorrow to do it all again.

I didn’t have to go far to get away though as you can see.  The Roker Marina is close at hand, but a quieter experience on a day like today.  Quieter that is until the shrieks of teenage girls on this unlikely vessel disturbed the air.

I assumed they were screaming in case they fell in, but once out into clear water they disproved that theory immediately.

Even the motor-sport enthusiasts racing around the perimeter were making less noise – (not sure who won though!)

Then there were those who were content to sit in the sun and people-watch as others went by.  As a photographer I do this all of the time, usually in the search for a good face to photograph, but in a more leisurely context I might take this a stage further.

I read an interesting book a few years back about reading people; the things we give away about ourselves by our appearance and body language.  This is cold reading, the technique used by tricksters and “mediums” to  convince people that they know more about you than they really do.  It’s a probability game where they make statements that are probably correct and then based on the level of reaction pursue that further or move on to a different subject before you begin to challenge their powers.  Derren Brown has used the technique on several occasions to debunk a variety of scams.

A cold reader meeting me for example, would probably mention that I’ve put on a little weight recently.  They’ve never met me before so how could they know that?  Yet a little observation would reveal that the belt I commonly wear is worn around the next notch, showing that it has been fastened tighter frequently in the past.  Were the notch the other way, they might enquire as to whether I’d suffered some illness recently.

Educated guess-work, yet in America where lawyers have the right to screen jurors for signs of any bias against their client the technique is regularly used (and used to try to produce juries that might be inclined to think a certain way).

I don’t profess any expertise in this field, but if I was a betting man I’d say that my subject today, Thomas, had been out in a boat.

Why would I think that?  The collar and tie look a little formal, but then many of the older generation don’t feel properly dressed without them, but on such a warm day the hat and sweater suggest that he’s been somewhere a little more exposed.  Elementary my dear Watson.

Oh yes, and there’s the matter of the dried sea-spray on the left lens of his glasses.  Move over Benedict Cumberbatch!  😉

The Gift of Memory

Like most people there are aspects of my memory that are pretty good (I just wish I could remember what they are right now), and other things that I’m not so good at like remembering people’s names.  When I’m photographing street portraits I like to use the individual’s name at least twice to embed it in my memory for when I write the blog later, though I might also record it on my iphone to be absolutely sure.

My wife’s family love to have parties, and more often than not these involve party games, which tend to become very competitive and not just between the teenagers, but also those who are old enough to know better.  One regular event is to play “the tray game” or “the memory game” where the objects from a covered tray are revealed one by one before the tray is covered again and the task of trying to recall the objects begins.  I’ve never been beaten at this.

This is not a feat of memory though, but the use of a technique.  I begin by having something in mind that I can mentally walk through and then place the objects along the way, visualising some connection that will help me to recall them.  Consequently I can usually recite the order they were shared in as well as the actual objects.  When the objects were relatively few I would work with calendar months, but attempts to thwart me by adding more objects have forced me to refine my strategy to the various premises and landmarks of a real journey.

Derren Brown at the Garrick Theatre, June 2008
Derren Brown at the Garrick Theatre, Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never made a secret of the technique, which has been in use since Simonides in the Greece of the 5th Century BC, yet no one has successfully adopted the same methodology to challenge me.  It’s called the “method of loci“, loci being Latin for places, and with some variations is the basis for many feats of memory.  You may have seen those who can remember the order of multiple sets of cards, or Derren Brown playing multiple Chess masters by remembering the moves to effectively play them off against each other.

One of the more recent TED talks is by Joshua Foer and is entitled “Feats of memory anyone can do”, but that’s where I have a problem.  I suspect that since the method involves visualisation that some may have greater abilities than others in this field.  I am a very visual person, hence my love of imagery.  Derren Brown is an accomplished artist as well as an entertainer.  Might this be a common factor amongst those can take these techniques to extreme levels.  Might the phrase “photographic memory” be more meaningful than we think?

Of course memory is so much more than being able to recall information visually stored for short-term use (these “achievements” are after all little more than party tricks rather than true learning)  but I suspect that there is some gift that allows some to excel at them.

Which reminds me of today’s portrait subject, whose name is Donna.  There was no way I could forget that name for although it means woman in Italian, it sounds like the Latin worddona.

It means a gift.