Sunday 22nd April - ‘Quality’



One of the delights of my new web-site is that I have taken up photography again, after a lapse of around twenty years. Like many areas of life, photography has ‘moved on’ and although the digital scene is impressive and much cheaper than the traditional ‘wet’ method, I feel a certain sense of “loss of quality”

Oddly the “quality” shows through in the reproductions of my earlier photographs; even though I have copied them with my digital camera. Take a look at the illustration below, of the photograph I used to head my Almanack entry on Torture (entry March 7th)


The strange thing is that the ‘wet bromide’ processing and the ‘burning-in’ and ‘shading-out’ process I used in the original darkroom work, still shows through, even though it has been finally reproduced, not only through my digital camera, but subsequently through the process involved in publishing it on the website.

It follows therefore, that the ‘quality’ seen, is not solely due to the traditional processing methods, but to the relationship between the monochrome tones I achieved during the original darkroom enlarging process. This is further underlined by the fact that I no longer have the original hand-finished print, but photographed it directly from a copy of the [i]book in which it had been published!

In the semi-autobiographical [ii]‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ the author, Robert Persig, argues the case for ‘Quality’, finding it almost impossible to capture in word concepts and yet through skilfully aligning the book with a reconciliation with his hurt and estranged son, brings us to sense that the‘quality’ of any object, person, or even thought, is found not within it’s elements, but within the relationship of those elements to each other. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (11th edition) defines quality as: “The standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind.” At first consideration, this seems to give the answer to the nature of quality, eg: “This suit is a better quality than that suit”. We spend most of our time, defining which of our possessions has the greater quality: cars, houses, clothes, televisions, carpets etc. Most of the time, this also equates to the cost of the items themselves.

The sad fact is that many people would not recognise quality if It came up and smacked them around the back of their heads. This is fortunate for manufacturers, especially if theirs is a fashionable logo: Givenchy, Versace, Gucci, Armani are cases in point. Their clothes and perfume are undoubtedly of good quality, but the price is arguably rather inflated. Nevertheless people seem to need to spend a large amount of money, in order to be re-assured that their purchase has “quality”.

In our society, money has become a yardstick for identifying quality and of course the labelling and branding of the quality item, be it an object, product or person. An amusing and rather sad example was reported in the newspapers a couple of weeks ago, when a world-famous violinist busked on the underground and no-one (except children – and they were pulled away by their parents) stopped to listen. The fact that he was playing in a nearby concert hall, which was sold out at the prices that only concert halls can charge (and need to charge, partly so that their rich patrons can identify quality) shows that the large bulk of society seem to need a label and an expensive price as a “quality-proof”.

I am aware that I have drifted from ‘quality’ to ‘exclusiveness’. Naturally many, if not most products (including theatre performers) that are expensive, are of a high quality – but not all. The lure of acquisition is often determined by how rare and exclusive the product is. Could the violinist be more desirable, playing at £100+ per ticket, than busking for coins in the underground - when ‘anyone’ can enjoy his playing?




In 1966 Liz and I went to see an outrageous mime artist, Lindsay Kemp, who was performing with his company at the Intimate Theatre Palmers Green, near where we lived at that time. Lindsay was one of the first ‘gender-bender’ performers, a sort of a mixture of Marcel Marceau and Boy George. The production was rather risqué; certainly for the sensibilities of the Palmers Green residents of the time and the sound of slamming auditorium doors throughout the performance, as ‘disgusted’ patrons left the building, gave proof that they were unaware of the quality of the young singer, who was soon to become a world famous icon. Fortunately Liz kept the programme – I’m sure you’ll spot who it was!






As well as teaching the movement skills Bowie subsequently used to create Ziggy Stardust; Lindsay taught at various London dance studios. I remember one class, where we had to lie on the floor and visualise shooting into space, exploding in a star-burst and then descending like a meteor, back to earth. When we eventually opened our eyes and prepared to get up and perform our visualisation in movement and mime, we found Lindsay in a full-length skirt At the time it was quite shocking – but Lindsay moved in the skirt in the most elegant way, instantly removing the masculine/feminine stereotype - not one of the class made any indication that anything unusual was happening, but the standard of our mime interpretations was much higher – and much less conventional than normal!




It is good to have ‘quality’. To have quality time with our loved ones, quality in our work and quality in our ‘own’ time.





I think the foundation of quality is love.



~dancer - Liz Richards

digital reproduction of two hand-coloured monochrome prints by an unknown studio photographer.







[i]Look’ by Robert Druce English Universities Press Published 1968. Illustrations by Henry Metcalfe


[ii] Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig


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