Up Against the Wall


My erstwhile enthusiasm for photgraphy came about, in part, because I’d seen the writing on the wall.

Easily the coldest and longest of the nine winters I spent in Sweden was that of 2005/06. Through the frigid misery of that January and February, a spray-painted piece of grafitti repeatedly caught my eye. Almost every day from the bus to work I’d see the words Up against the wall, motherfucker! on the side of a building. “I should take a photo of that”, I thought.

The same thought had occurred to me a couple of dozen times without my having done anything about it, when I further thought “I should take a photo of that with myself up against the wall!”. The problem was that my camera at the time was a basic point-and-shoot model that wasn’t working too well. “I’ll need a better camera,” I thought “and a tripod”. Another dozen more trips to work and back ensued, with my plan still only vague and ill-formed.

Then came the decisive thought: “I should take a photo of that with myself up against the wall, with my head positioned in front of the letter m!” The prospect amused me enough that the next Saturday I went to the local electronics store and bought a slightly better fixed-lens digital camera (a Sony DSC-V3), and a tripod. Having done so, the onset of a migraine disinclined me from trudging through the snow to the wall in question, and a few more weeks passed before the opportunity to go there finally arose.

On a Sunday morning in late March, the temperature still a bracing -5C, in overcoat, hat, scarf & gloves, I set up the tripod in the snow, positioned the camera so the full sentence was in shot, set the self-timer, and ran to stand in front of the m in motherfucker. After checking the result, I repeated the process another six or seven times until the camera’s battery fell victim to the chill and died. On reviving it back home and transferring the shots there was disappointment. The framing didn’t look so good and the colours were drab. Only after experimenting with cropping and desaturating the images in Photoshop did I end up with a satisfactory result.

I imagined I might try again when the weather and the light were better, but, no sooner had the snow begun to melt than a load more grafitti was added to the same wall, rendering it rather less photogenic. Having a slightly better camera meant I was more inclined to use it, and over the rest of that year and the next one I took something like a thousand more shots, both enjoying the experience, but also increasingly cognizant of the camera’s limitations. By late 2007, I had my heart set on acquiring a DSLR…