Screen Burn / by Graham Dew

Woodland Mushroom, copyright Graham Dew 2013
Woodland Mushroom

The Guardian ran a small article today about the BBC presenter and commentator Andrew Marr. Rather than focus on his professional knowledge, this piece concerned his new book about his amateur passion, his joy of drawing, or sketching. The basic premise was that it is better to be doing something creative with one’s hands than it is to sit transfixed to a screen, be that a television, computer or tablet.

I couldn’t agree more. From necessity, I spend more hours in front of a computer monitor than I do anything else. I spend less time asleep than I do handling and writing emails, preparing spreadsheets or working on some web tool to carry out my daily fare of work tasks. The last thing I want to do when I have some free time is to sit in front of another glowing screen for my entertainment. To spend one’s evening passively being entertained seems to be an opportunity lost to do something worthwhile.

I used to carry a small netbook with me on my daily commute on the train, when I would write my blog posts, social emails or view my favourite blogs and websites. These days, I prefer to read books (on paper – not kindle!) or make the most of the view before we slip into the darkness of winter. On some journeys I will just take time off to think and dream, on others I will listen to one of the many spoken voice podcasts to which I subscribe (you must search out Radiolab if you have yet to hear it). On normal working days I rarely do any photo editing in the evening because of screen fatigue. Maybe one day we will have monitors that look like the paintings in Harry Potter, but until then I will guard against screen burn.

To go out with the camera is a different thing altogether, thank goodness. Although the cameras are now digital and the viewfinders are yet another splurge of illuminated pixels, it feels invigorating to be moving about, setting the camera and capturing the image. Of all the time spent looking, very little of it is through the viewfinder. Most of the time I am hunting down a telling icon or motif, searching out a viewpoint and composition, thinking about the lighting to tell the story. I almost never use a tripod, and I am often on my knees bending down to get low shots or interesting angles. I find it very absorbing and relaxing, therapeutic even, to be out making images.

So it was yesterday, on a visit with my son to Crabwood. I normally prefer to photograph by myself, but he is patient, inquisitive and good company. We explored and talked while I looked for pictures, coming away with a clutch of pictures, memories of a gorgeous autumnal morning, and the satisfaction of time well spent.