The Case of the Missing Author

Street photography would be so much easier if we could simply imagine a perfect scene and have it appear magically in front of the camera. I’m jealous of the novelist who is unconstrained by reality, allowing pure imagination to make invented characters perform to order. I’ve a good mind to borrow a couple of them.

Let’s pretend that Hercule Poirot and his friend and narrator Captain Hastings have retired from solving mysteries and have taken up photography. What would they want to photograph on the streets of London?

Poirot: “Ah, Hastings, mon ami, let us create the perfect photograph today. I want us to find a subject that will set my little grey cells working. It must be mysterious! Where, oh where, can we find such a mystery in London?”

Hastings: “Well, personally I think we should pay homage to our beloved creator. Now don’t look aghast, Poirot old chap. I don’t mean the good Lord above, I mean Agatha Christie. There’s a splendid memorial to her in front of where the Photographers Gallery used to be.”

Poirot: “What an excellent idea, Hastings. A memorial, yes. We could pretend to be photographing it while in actual fact waiting for something a little more interesting to come along, perhaps?”

Hastings: “Such as?”

Poirot: “Whatever you like. You really should have learned how to do this from our dear creator.”

Hastings: “Alright. What would I most desire? I don’t suppose, Poirot, that a beautiful woman would be out of the question?”

Poirot: “Not at all. You may have anyone you like. It’s purely fiction, after all.”

Hastings (giving his imagination free rein): “As it’s winter, I think a tall Russian model wearing tight leggings would be acceptable. And for you?”

Poirot: “Someone a little bit shorter. Maybe an elegant brunette holding a red rose. But that’s not enough, Hastings, there has to be a mystery. Perhaps they could both be carrying a body in a bag.”

Hastings: “Outrageous, Poirot! But yes, I see what you mean. It’s midday in Covent Garden, but here are two women, beautifully dressed as if for a special occasion — and accompanied by…a third person, a man holding two red roses, one for himself and one for my tall Russian model who needs both hands free to carry the body.”

Poirot: “Now we are making progress, Hastings. The third man must also be impeccably dressed in something spectacular and colourful.”

Hastings: “A red jacket?”

Poirot: “Be precise, Hastings. You can’t just say ‘red.’ It has to be scarlet, or crimson, or cherry, or wine, or ruby, or something like that.”

Hastings: “Candy?”

Poirot: “Indeed, Hastings, that colour must be specified as #D21502 if my memory serves me correctly.”

Hastings: “Let me recap, Poirot. Our perfect photograph would include the memorial to our beloved creator Agatha, together with a mysterious and somewhat theatrical scenario…”

Poirot (interrupting): “There’s nothing wrong with a little theatre, Hastings. We’re just round the corner from where The Mousetrap has been played for the last sixty-seven years.”

three women, outside theatre with The Mousetrap plaque

Hastings: “Don’t remind me, Poirot. She didn’t put the two of us in The Mousetrap! I’m beginning to have my doubts about this picture. Shall we see what we’ve got so far?”

Poirot: “But this is terrible, Hastings. It’s not what we wanted at all. Look, there’s another figure on the left — you can just see his arm. We’ll have to get rid of him.”

Hastings: “And the memorial. It’s awfully ugly, isn’t it? Whatever were they thinking?”

Poirot: “Lamentable, I agree, Hastings. And if you examine it closely you can just see the outline of that dreadfully amateur Miss Marple — looking for all the world like Vivian Maier on a bad day — both of them our chief competitors. We have no choice but to crop the whole memorial from our perfect image.”

the featured shot, cropped

Hastings (in dismay): “But if we erase our own creator we’ll be lost.”

Poirot (raising his finger): “No, mon ami, we shall not be lost. We shall be free.”

NOTE: It was so nearly the perfect shot: I was waiting for someone interesting to pass the Agatha Christie memorial at the corner of Cranbourn Street and St Martin’s Lane when this group of people crossed in front of me. They were mysterious for sure! Alas, the book-shaped monument is so ponderous I tried to crop it from the image (as above), thereby removing the one element that gave it an extra twist.

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