I have been trying to write an introductory post that reflects the marriage of my interests in photography and philosophy and it got me thinking about the moment I diverged from one to the other. The divergence I went on in that post itself was appropriately wide but rather than delete it I thought I’d continue the reminiscence here.

I used to be quite active in my philosophy community at school and, in fact, a (much) older philosophy A Level student was the first person to buy one of my photographs way back when. We met because I’d jump onto local message boards and I started posting in the Philosophy section about Freud and “nature vs nurture”.

I never did Philosophy formally though, mostly because the teacher put me off. In the compulsory Religious Studies classes we had already crossed paths and I was sent out of her class regularly. I was hungry for knowledge but wanted it on my terms – I used to have a bit of a kleptomanic compulsion for stealing school library books when I was much younger, and I stole Thus Sprach Zarathustra from her.

I remember one lesson was on euthanasia and it was her opinion that anyone who commits suicide is a selfish coward. In my mind, I was at war with her from then on.

She was quite a fascinating character though. She was a foul-tempered woman who survived a car crash many years back and she was left with a metal plate in her leg and a bleak outlook that she supplemented by openly popping codeine in class.

My favourite story of her is that she put forward the first question following an extracurricular tour of a local Buddhist monastery, asking “And what do you contribute to society?”

I’m not sure if that’s badass or not in hindsight.

At the time, I couldn’t think of anything worse than doing a philosophy A Level with her and so plucked for photography and English literature instead. Photography ultimately won out because I kept being told I was good at it and people only seemed to do English literature if they were academically inclined and liked the humanities but didn’t have much of a clue beyond that. Somedays I wish I’d done that instead too.

I recently met up with that old student who first bought my photograph. He went on to do philosophy at undergraduate level in Sheffield. I asked if the A Level had been worth doing. (My only memory was that they did Kant which tickled everyone because his name sounded like “cunt” but I never heard of any substance beyond that). He said no, I didn’t miss out.

But still, as I continue to stare down the Critique of Pure Reason I do wonder if it might have been a tiny bit useful.

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