Even more amazing is how we grasp the concept of personal photography from an incredibly early age. How many times have you seen a baby - too young to talk - sitting upright in a pram as an adoring relative points a camera at it, perfectly still with a sickly smile on it's snotty face, and as soon as it hears the shutter click, the smile drops off and the baby reverts to unselfconscious normality? In order for the baby to behave like that, it must understand that an image of itself is being created inside the gadget, and it must look straight into the bit of glass on the front of it - not at the relative - then wait to see it's own image. In the days before digital cameras, this wait could be up to a week or more, so the understanding of association between the event and the image was even more remarkable.
Living in a tourist city as I do, I have long-since realised that the absolute masters of posing for the camera are the Japanese, with Eastern Europeans coming a close second. There seems to be a tradition amongst the Japanese that - when a young woman is photographed in front of an impressive piece of architecture or a spectacular vista, she must place her body in such a way as to obscure as much of the background as possible, at the same time as looking as vacuous and stupid as she possibly can. It makes no difference if she has a PHD, First-Class Honours degree in Astro-Physics, the end pictorial result must portray her as a twelve year old girl with learning difficulties, who also happens to be precociously pretty and gapingly vacant.
I looked out of the window the other day to see a young Japanese couple - he with a camera, and she clasping the thin column of a hanging flower-basket and peeping coyly around the side of it, as if she believed that she was so small that the post could - in reality - hide most of her body, rather than the 5% that it actually did.
He kneeled down and adjusted the camera, whilst she stayed motionless with the coy look. About a minute passed before he realised that the lense-cap was still on, but she kept up the pose. More time passed before he composed the shot to his satisfaction, then he discovered that the camera was switched off, so he fiddled around with it again and waited for it to boot up. More time passed. Then some more. The whole thing must have taken about 2 minutes, during which time she maintained this extremely uncomfortable and silly pose. I wonder what they did with that picture.
I was once standing on the viewing platform at Niagara Falls, when a lone, young Japanese man asked if I would take his picture with the Falls behind him. I know you can guess what is coming, but he didn't. He handed me the camera and I looked through the view-finder, then asked him to move back. He did. I wasn't satisfied, so I asked him to move back some more. Then some more, until his arse was squashed up against the railings and the spray from the roaring abyss behind him was misting up the lense. Then I asked him to move back some more. Eventually, he got the joke and I took the picture. Funny, no?