A Norwegian once taught me a very simple technique for taking photographs using eye and brain. We were awaiting the sunrise at Masada, the ruined cliff-top fortress situated high above the dead sea. The sun, though some 93 million miles away, looked as if it was just about finished toasting Jordan’s capital Amman just over the horizon and would be arriving any minute.
The technique was very simple. Position your head correctly so that your eyes were pointed at the most pleasing view and then close them for a minute or longer. Then briefly open your eyes, soak up the light, and close them again for a while. To the mind of the Norwegian artist, and the person who taught him the technique, this was a sure way for the cameraless to burn the image onto the photographic plate of their memory for ever. I do remember that view from Masada fairly well though this mental ‘photograph’ was taken over 13 years ago. Though it could also be that the landscape was surreal: the warm morning light on this raw, unforgiving landscape; the salt flats below like a frozen desert lake; the expectant waiting at the site of a legendary mass suicide. And it could also be due in part the faulty wiring in this super-charged region where even the rocks we sat on seemed to be connected to the religious mains supply.
Another recipe for burning an image permanently on to your retinas, is to associate it with some prickly negative emotions. A tiny bit of embarrassment tinged with fear is enough.
I met George Best, whose face will live in my head for ever, at Geneva International Airport. I was volunteering at a winter camp for children who’d had organ transplants. Best had a legendary football career behind him that had slowly morphed into a legendary drinking career, which had recently culminated in a liver transplant. The camp organiser invited him and his young, attractive wife, Alex, to the event as they would of course bring attention to the issue of transplantation, that it makes otherwise lost lives livable, and the fact that more donors are always needed.
I drove to the airport in a rented Mercedes limousine and waited a while for them to appear through the arrivals gate. There was no need for a sign, there could be no mistaking the bearded form of this famous and aged-before-time man with an attractive 27 year-old by his side.
I took them to the car. George elected to sit in the back instructing Alex to sit in the passenger seat. We’re ready to go. It’s my first time driving an automatic and I realise I don’t know how to get the damn thing in reverse to get out of the parking space.
Alex assists, finding the hidden button that allows the stick to shift into the R position. I put my hand on her shear-stockinged knee in a reflexive friendly gesture. My eyes feel drawn to the rear-view mirror, and there I see a pair of stunning blue, alpha male eyes staring straight back at me framed by the mirror’s surround. ‘Please take your hand off my wife’s knee,’ they politely but firmly seem to demand. And in the single second it takes to remove my hand, George Best’s eyes join the image of the sunrise over the dead see at Masada in my indelible mental photo album.