Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A "chocolate box" scene

click photo to enlarge
When I was young the very worst comment anyone could make about a painting or photograph was that it was a "chocolate box scene". That phrase isn't used today, except by people of a "certain age", largely because the object on which it is based is no longer found. In 1950s and 1960s Britain chocolates for the mass market often came in a box with a lid that featured a widely-loved painting, or a photographic scene. The first I remember seeing had a George Stubbs painting of horses. I also recall John Constable's "Haywain", Monet's "Poppy Field", and Turner's "Fighting Temeraire" getting this treatment. It struck me as a young teenager, and it strikes me now, that this dismissive phrase was grossly unfair. Sometimes work that is widely popular deserves to be so because it embodies excellent qualities - as these paintings do. And sometimes the qualities that give a piece popular appeal are shallow or sentimental. However, popularity alone is not a reason to dismiss a work. Regrettably, this is often what seems to happen.

But then art (and photography) are like that. The most critically feted work is rarely beautiful in the conventional sense, and the works most widely appreciated by the general public, which often do embody conventional beauty, are rarely those most lauded by the cognoscenti. I have the feeling that this is a trend that intensified in the twentieth century, for reasons that require deconstructing by a social scientist rather than an art critic.

So, today I present a photograph which, depending on your taste, is either pretty, beautiful, "a chocolate box scene", a "postcard", or worthy of little consideration because it has no "edge"! It shows a scene on the Lancaster Canal near Forton, Lancashire. The boat is a modern "narrow boat", a cut-down version of an older type made specifically for the narrow industrial canals of Britain. As a picture it says little more than "this is a very pleasant place", and "canal boating looks like fun". The composition is simple, with the canal's diagonal leading the eye through the boat to the bridge, with other textures, colours and forms adding visual interest. If boxes of chocolates still had pictures on their lids I think this shot might find its place!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen