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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Annoying Pictures of Domesticity

I didn't get to go to Format Festival at the weekend, because it was Mother's Day and I had to cook breakfast, make dinner, wrap presents and generally serve up the delights that are due to the mother of my child. It was lovely.

And so, by all accounts, was Format. It's had rave reviews from the people I've spoken to who went. But I sadly missed the opening.

Instead, the picture I saw most of in the last few days was this one, spotted during my morning drive along mists of the A46 yesterday morning. It was an exciting drive as drives go - we saw a bunch of guinea fowl and a bus blew smoke into our window. But no matter what happened the eyes had to go front of road and there she was in all her skin-glowing domestic glory, the Bosch lady; for a full 30 minutes, until Bosch went Stroud way and we went Bristol way. Then I kind of missed her, I must confess. She looked quite kind all in all.

The picture shows  a woman turning up the central heating on her 5-year-guaranteed Greenstar Boiler (Best Buy in Which September 2014). England is the land of mild winters and cold houses, so Central Heating is a valuable thing.  I should know, I used to sell it door-to-door a long time ago. Well, I didn't sell it.  I tried to sell it, but it's a tough call in Stockport where "I don't hold with Central Heating" and "It makes it muggy" and "I like it cold" were your standard answers to some dopey central-heating touting kid with a clipboard and an army jacket knocking on your door of an evening.

So there she is, turning on the heating. She's looking down at her health-filled toddlers snuffling into the shagpile, content that their flushed cheeks and glowing toes are from the vital warmth emanating from her magic dial; it's a comfort nipple, spilling out warmth and domesticity in gentle streams. And despite her scrubbed-up cheeks, she's red-faced and flushed, so there's a domestic double whammy in there. Maybe it's not toddlers she's looking at, maybe that dial she's turning is cranking up the innuendo. But probably not, no definitely not. That would be far too racey for Little Miss Scrubbed Face.

I know I'm supposed to pretend that pictures are just fictions as this one obviously is, and that they shouldn't influence me, but they do. That's why people put them on the back of vans or newspapers, so people can see them and be affected. And as we drove up the A46, I got more and more affected by this one and it's propagandisation of a wholesome adult with a boiler and a sensibility to match her exfoliated skin. It's a representation of somebody who's been visually stripped of what makes her flesh and blood. And so have her imaginary children and her home and her life. She's a plastic being, a manufactured concern, the kind of person who has learned to care deeply about the M4 Corridor and the Balance of Payments and the Budget Deficit because that's what you do when you're grown up. She's a Radio 2 News Update transmogrified into living, breathing, dial switching human flesh.

And there's a real, living, breathing person beneath that ad. Just like there's a real living, breathing person behind this cover picture for the Guardian Family Section. Which thanks to the caption is possibly the most annoying picture I have seen all year.

It wasn't just me who was annoyed by it, a whole slew of mothers looked at it and guffawed. There was a disjoint between their experience, their post-natal appearance and the particular smugness that the caption (and it is the caption, not the picture) provides. The poor mother has been Guardianified, She seems quite delighted with herself but within the context of the Family section she's been made aspirational. And again, even though we know it's a fiction and that if you stick a different caption on that grin of deluded delight could become something more akin to the threshold of despair. But that's not happened and so we all looked at this picture and bubbled up a little one-minute hate and had the photography people among us receding into our limited fundamentalist Dijkstra Childbirth fandoms. And it's not the mother's fault, nor that of the photographer. It's the Guardian's! You have to hate the fucking Guardian sometimes. 

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