I am a series of numbers. My age, for one. Height, weight (one of those is smaller than I’d like, the other larger). Date of birth, IQ, driving licence number, national insurance number, staff number, bank account numbers, car registration, house number and postcode, IP address. A lot of the jobs I have done in the past have involved statistics to some degree. But I don’t let any numbers really define me, despite what the banks, employers and statisticians think.
In school I tended to study the more scientific subjects and my academic qualifications reflect this. Numbers in science make things absolute. When you can see a value on a page, it can have a comforting quality. My Photographic Science degree involved a lot of numbers. I can’t say I felt comforted by most of them and there were quite a few I didn’t (and still don’t) understand. I don’t regret learning about numbers. I learned to take control of them so they don’t control me.
Later, when I got back into photography as an art, numbers and science remained important despite the apparent clash between subjectivity and objectivity.
Aperture, shutter speed, focussing distance, sensitivity of emulsion. The number 36 was important because that was the maximum number of photos you could take with one roll of film. (If you were sneaky and were careful winding the film on at the beginning, you could sometimes sneak a 37th image on the roll, but it was risky).
Look at the following sequence of numbers. 1, 3, 6, 5, 12, 16.
It’s the resolution in megapixels of the main cameras I have used over the years. Digital photography made numbers important in the process of image manipulation, storage and printing, too. Look to the right to see what a mess we could be in if those numbers go wrong.
Numbers have an important part to play whether you like them or not. But try putting a purely numerical value on the leaf above. At the end of the day, numbers may be important but they mustn’t be allowed to cloud our preception of what is around us.