Tuesday 30 June 2015

Why I don't photograph chairs

© Sophia Roberts
I hadn't realised, before reading Geoff Dyer's reflections, that I often take photographs of benches, but rarely of chairs. It's tempting to think that that's because I find benches more attractive than chairs, but I now appreciate that there's more to it than that.

Dorothea Lange said that our photographs are reflections of ourselves and Paul Strand said that he didn't choose what to take photographs of, but that they chose him. That being the case, I can't help but think that I must have something in common with benches. Is it that, because we are not flexible - "we don't reconfigure according to the demands of a social situation" - that we are reduced to mere fixtures in a landscape?

Whilst "a chair can adapt itself to any environment," a bench is like me: it's a spectator. Its view of the world is inclined to be "fixed, determined, stubbornly opposed to change yet powerless to resist it." It sits it out.

My more usual stance is certainly that of someone parked on a metaphorical bench. Ever since I started using a wheelchair to travel any real distance and increasingly, as my mobility becomes more limited, I am usually to be found doing what one does when bound by the seat of one's pants to a bench: reading, writing and reflecting.

Benches are associated with views over a landscape and my landscape is often limited: to the screen before my eyes or to the extent of the views I glimpse through the windows of my home. My outlook does tend to be fixed - according to the location of my bench. I may have several to choose from, both inside and out, but I can't escape the notion that whilst a bench is associated with a place of refuge that the bench's only refuge is itself. This must be what speaks to me. Equally that it maintains a vestige of dignity and has limitless powers of endurance.

Whenever I see a bench I recognise a fellow spirit. We both have our seasons and our moments; and we can weather the storms and take whatever life throws at us. But, hey, things could be a lot worse; I'm not reduced to sitting, or lying on the ground - yet. I'm still the very image of "dormant respectability!"


  1. Very interesting observation. A Landscape Architect I know calls benches "visual resting places". We may not ever sit in benches, but our minds take a momentary "ahhh" when we see one.

    1. Thank you. Now that's an interesting idea...I think your friend may well be right.

  2. Very thought-provoking post, Sophia. Your associations with benches rings so true. I love your phrase, "....it maintains a vestige of dignity and has limitless powers of endurance." Striking analogy. I've always been attracted to chairs, and have hundreds of photos of them. I'll have to think about why that is.

    1. Thank you Gina. Several people have suggested that I haven't given benches enough credit: they suggest more than person, conversation, lovers... But chairs are lively and can move. I'll be interested to hear what you come up with.