A couple of days ago Vishal woke up in the morning to find that one of our computers wouldn’t start up. In that monochrome text graphics limbo world of PC BIOS screens, it was deciphered that one of our hard drives was missing. Well, not physically missing, because it couldn’t disconnect itself and walk off for a stroll now could it? But it wasn’t listed in the hardware detection screen that shows up when a computer does its initial starting and beeping (POST). That meant trouble!
My first reaction in situations like this (at least in my head) is to run around screaming while throwing my arms into the air in utter despair and panic. I have a lot of por… err documents and work files stored on all our drives and losing one can be quite disastrous if I haven’t backed-up for a while (which like all human beings is most of the time). So after doing a silent mental panic run, to which I added in the elements of being naked while in a class room taking an important exam just for maximum effect, I settled down and decided to get on with the rest of my morning business and come back to the computer issue in a while.
“When in doubt, use a screwdriver”, is my motto when it comes to anything mechanical or electrical that dares to malfunction on my beat. I opened up the old tower and stared into the abyss. Being a very small box very far from a window, it usually gets very dark in there, but even in that darkness I realised after a bit of wire shifting and cable moving that I was looking into a disaster zone. I quickly forgot about the malfunctioning hard drive because I was mesmerised by the tenuous tangles and enough accumulated dust to fill a small desert. When I tried to blow away a little dust and was greeted by a storm of fine fluff that cover my head, I knew this was going to be a long day.
My first motto regarding screwdrivers and malfunctioning equipment invariable puts me face to face with complex mechanisms which I don’t completely understand, so it really becomes necessary for me to have a more comprehensive belief system on how to deal with these things. This is why my second motto is, “When in possession of an open mechanism and in doubt, clean like hell and hope for the best”. Since I didn’t remember completing my computer cleaning ritual for many years, and because this was a good excuse to do it, I started taking the old work horse apart.
If you live in a temperate part of the world in an area where the land is not prone to dust or sand you might find these photos ghastly, but let me assure you I’ve seen a lot worse. When you are living in a desert in a hot and sometimes humid climate, dust has a way of collecting and congealing in all the most inappropriate nooks and crannies inside equipment, and my computer was a great example of this as you can plainly see. Discovering all this monstrosity hiding inside my own little desktop convinced me that these drive errors were for the best. I had no idea whether I could solve them, but at least I would have a cleaner malfunctioning computer.
No strange sight goes unexploited in my house. My camera was quickly ready and willing to capture the carnage, and the indirect sunlight streaming through my window provided a moody atmosphere for the proceedings. The thing to note here is how genuinely interesting some of these photos are, and that leads me to my point about one important aspect of taking better photos.
I’ll tell you what professional casting people in Hollywood have known for a century: a subject with some flaws in their features make for better images from the camera. Often actors who look better on screen are not the perfectly “pretty” looking ones but the ones with the strange nose or the slightly crooked teeth. These flaws add character and make them more photogenic. The same holds true for any photographic subject. Flaws and blemishes can add interest that might not exist in perfection.
Look around at these photos and notice that while you might have seen a million fancy product photographs of mother boards and electronic gizmos on hardware review sites, these dirty and dust-infested images make the cold and lifeless pieces of silicon and metal more intriguing and interesting. Suddenly it is not just any piece of equipment, its an object with a story. Photographs and images that tell us stories or hint at stories are more interesting to look at. Images with unexpected flaws or imperfect features engage us on a deeper level and make us ask questions about them — Why are these circuit boards filthy? How did the get this way? Do they work any more? You see, mystery, intrigue, and depth is suddenly added to what could have been boring product shots.
You must sometimes seek out what you might think is ugly, unpleasant, or simply imperfect, to capture some of your best photographs. Not only does imperfection add inherent interest, but it also forces you, the photographer, to look at your subject more actively and seek out the beauty in it.
The moral of the story is to not be afraid of the unusual or the ugly as a photographer. You might be surprised by the results you can get if you force yourself to tackle the weird and blemished side of existence. But how can you face the imperfect if you are scared of dirt and squalor? These you must face head on and tackle with the fanaticism of a spring cleaning mother during a three day weekend. Cleaner computers lead to cleaner minds, and better pictures.
And what of the villain who started this all, you might be wondering. What of the drive error that resulted in these pretty pictures? In my usual round-about way, that problem too was solved. When putting back the computer after the day’s cleaning frenzy, I re-assigned the drive positions of the IDE cables and rearranged how they were attached to the motherboard for less tangling. It turned out that when I finally switched on the system my CD drive was now not working. It would seem the fault had been with one particular cable all along. Thus the problem was solved, the computer was cleaned, the sexier photographs were taken, and all was well with the world.