I recall visiting an exhibition of photography in Vladivostock about seven years ago now. The title of the exhibition had something in common with the title of this post. Its content, meanwhile, consisted of photographs taken of famous places shortly before – or during – a dramatic event. All the pictures were unique in that they completly ignored – wilfully, or otherwise – the perceived ‘centre of things’. If a man was shot whilst riding in a car, they caught the dirt on the edge of the hubcaps. If the ground was shaking, they found a swallow flying in the sky above. If a deal was being made, they caught not the handshake, but the gleam in the shoes of the man standing four rows behind. The photos might as well have been taken on any other day – except that they weren’t. Their brilliance lay in capturing, and reminding us of, the humdrum details of famous days.
This is a trick that modern european writers pull off relatively frequently. It is also a trick that I will never tire of. We all live through dramatic events, but few of us experience the drama at first hand, or place it in the centre of our frames. We are always looking elsewhere; often to the side; often in another direction entirely. We are always in the slightly wrong place, at the slightly wrong time. And for this, I am strangely thankful.