An Avid Observer

I worked with photographer Carlos Alba on the introduction to his book ‘The Observation of Trifles‘. The following is an extract from the text:

Alba’s narrative is –in lack of a better adjective- London to the bone. It seems to capture –at least as an atmosphere- the elusive spirit of the east end, the south, and the overlooked peripheries of the city. His images, as his observation skills, are razor sharp. And then there is this indescribable presence summoned by the masterful associations and pairings in his book. The more I try and describe it, the less I’ll succeed.

‘The observation of trifles” –added Alba on our last conversation- is also a very important clue to the nature of this book. It comes from legendary detective Sherlock Holmes, in a conversation with his inseparable aide-de-camp Dr.Watson. At the end of The Boscombe Valley Mystery he says, “You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles.” It is clear that this is also Alba’s method, and because of this he is no less a detective than Holmes; an obsessive observer of the world and a ‘revealer’ of secrets. In the same novel, a few pages before the quote, I found another remark and couldn’t resist adding it to the conversation: “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact”. Here I think lays the core of his project. A few years into London life I think we have been deceived by the apparent obviousness of it all. In Alba’s book we see a collection of people and objects so obvious to us, that they had become invisible. It is only through avid observers like him that we realise they are there, part of a story that also escapes our eye but is by no means less real or important. It is life. We have become so used to it that we can hardly see it.

I have gone through ‘The observation of trifles’ over and over again with no loss of excitement. It makes me want to go out there and rediscover my surroundings, to try and observe rather than see. It makes me walk through London with renewed eyes and remember when it was all so new and exciting. I hope to get he same kind of thrill next time I find a discarded photograph, a crumpled paper or a broken ruler on the floor. I wonder what Holmes would think of Alba’s book, it seems clear to me he would be very proud. After all, they are kindred spirits.

The game is afoot.