Fstoppers is about all things photography related, so in a slight departure from our normal articles we are serializing a photography focused short story. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Charlie Sydcup had finished his night shift at St. Thomas' hospital. A bright sunny day had already dawned as he walked out of the employees' entrance at 7am. Breathing in the fresh Thames air, he ambled along South Bank in search of some sustenance. The route was a "Who's Who" of building locations in London - MI5 headquarters, the Houses of Parliament, Millennium Wheel – and was beginning to buzz with tourists. He stopped at his favorite coffee shop in the OXO building, ordering a latte and bacon sandwich. Sitting down in the leather upholstered chair, he slung the rucksack off his shoulder and placed it on the coffee table. Out of the side pocket he retrieved his new camera, switching it on; the lens extended out from the front. Breathing heavily on the outside element, he gazed as a layer of mist formed, then used a micro-fibre cloth to wipe the glass. He sat back and pulled a map from his pocket, opening it to show the City of London. He had a couple of hours before he needed to be back home and he had a list of buildings he wanted to visit and photograph.
Charlie had come to London two years ago, after finishing his photography degree, and felt that being in the cultural and media capital would help develop his career. As ever, the reality of living in the city and just being able to ‘keep his head above water’ meant that he now worked as a cleaner at the hospital. This paid the bills and the flexible shift work gave him the time and opportunity to pursue his creative aspirations.
Today he was excited because his digital camera had just returned from the specialist repairers. It hadn't been in for repair, but rather modification and was now converted to record video in near infra-red, or NIR as it was known. Not only did the video have an ethereal quality in NIR, but it enabled him to record things you couldn't see with the naked eye. Of course, the camera wasn't designed for this but the removal of the infra-red blocking filter and boost to the gain on the sensor made it much more sensitive. What was unusual, and he was keen to test, was the slow-motion functionality on the camera. Recording at up to 1000 frames per second, he could see every movement no matter how subtle, every expression no matter how fleeting… literally he could capture every single moment in time.
He walked out of the coffee shop and strode onward alongside the river until he came to the Millennium Footbridge that connected the monumental Tate Modern art gallery with St. Paul's Cathedral in the City of London. After crossing the river, the streets became narrower, winding their way through the heart of the city - the city of money, of power. The clean gutters, gentrified Edwardian and Victorian residences and modern edifices glorifying wealth were an apt location for him to film. He passed in front of Canon Street Station and filtered his way through the burgeoning city of commuters arriving at Bank, the crossroads where the Bank of England was based. The city radiated out from this point and the core of grandiose buildings was encircled by modern skyrise, each creating its own imprint on the city's character - the Gherkin, Cheese Grater, Walkie Talkie. The constant development ensured there were always cranes visible, like nodding storks constantly bobbing up and down.
He crossed over the road, darting between recently emptied rubbish bins, around protective railings and under discrete shop hoardings until he found himself standing outside 20 Fenchurch Street - aka the Walkie Talkie due to its distinctive shape. The skeletal structure was clad in scaffolding and was slowly growing out of the heart of the city. This was his adopted city, one that he had begun documenting and ’20’ as he called it, had been his focus from demolition of the old building to development of the new one.
He crossed over the street and removed a tripod from his bag, extending the legs and clamping them tight before mounting the camera on top. He was filming short two minute segments and for this visit wanted to capture a range of interactions of people on the street - builders coming and going, shoppers mingling slowly in the crowds, businessmen marching between meetings. He framed up the width of the building so that people were shown in their context. A young man in pin stripe suit, shining cufflinks, waistcoat, barged passed a dithering young couple and drew curses in return. Charlie replayed the footage and slowed the motion down - the man showed a swagger in his frame, a slight smirk to his face. His body leaned in to the motion and, like the bow of a ship crashing through a wave, he pierced the couple, tossing them aside.
That’s a keeper!, Charlie thought.
He started recording again, focused upon his equipment, ensuring it was set up correctly. Then he heard it - the camera saw and heard it too, recorded it, saved it. For Charlie only his hearing was in the moment - a yell, loud, clear, startled. This was followed by a sharp crack, the sound of a dead weight hitting a hard surface. The screams then followed. Charlie looked up as across the street chaos erupted - the young businessman was gone, but the couple were still close, looking back, mouths open. He saw convergence in the scene - the frenetic movement of limbs, people, accompanied by shouts and screams. Then the strange stillness of many: eyes staring, mouths agape, a shocked silence. And in the centre - a motionless body, splayed on the pavement, blood seeping from stained clothes. Life draining away into the cracks below. Charlie could clearly see it was a builder, he was a builder - the large boots and rough-hewn clothes, the helmet spinning away from him. People were thrust into action, phoning for an ambulance, creating space, attending to the body, attempting first aid.
A strange compulsion seized Charlie - had he really filmed the fall? Instead of rushing to help he replayed the file at half-speed. People moved backwards and forwards, slowly, slowly... and then the body appeared, in freefall. Even in slow motion the speed surprised him and whilst there was no sound playing, he could see people flinch when the body came to rest. But a whole second of footage – he had a thousand frames.
What was that? he thought, looking at the screen on the camera.
He rewound the clip and slowed it down to a tenth of the speed. The body appeared, passed through the scene and hit the pavement. It was a sudden, violent, death, the head rolled toward him.
He slowed it down to a hundredth of a second. The body, pavement, head, the eyes looking straight at him, at the camera - flash. He paused the film - a white flash filled the frame, bleaching the scene, obscuring everything the camera recorded. He replayed the hundredth of a second - the head rolled, the eyes staring, then what looked like a camera flash, but stronger, more powerful… from the eyes.
Lead image courtesy of Free-Photos via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.