Back in the last years of the twentieth century, I was a professional photobomber. Now that an authoritative dictionary has officially recognised the word, polite society suddenly sees it as a recent thing. However, those of us who quietly carried out our guerilla art haven’t yet needed a name for our fun.
Myself and a good friend, whom I’ll just call PN, used to loiter in certain galleries in the British Museum. We chose rooms which held stolen iconic objects from countries rich enough to send endless streams of tourists to be photographed beside them. Two in particular provided especially rich pickings: the room with the Rosetta Stone and the room with the Elgin Marbles.
We took it in turns to be the photobomber and the photographer. Making out like we didn’t know each other, one would position himself where a tourist would likely ask to be photographed alongside their national treasures. If that was me, I would smile broadly, say that I would be delighted and distract them whilst PN got into position. They would pose, I would line them up, offer to take a couple of shots and then snap away.
Remember this was in the days before digital photography. The tourists would have to wait until they got home before seeing their photographs. Kids, can you even imagine that? The very concept of waiting for anything seems to have disappeared. Is that word even still in the dictionary?
With the Rosetta Stone, PN would pose in the background as if he were walking like an Egyptian. He was much better at this than I was. So good that the first few times I couldn’t control my mirth and the game was spoiled. But I learnt to master my emotions and we became a highly skilled team. Hundreds of tourists will have gone home and then asked the question, “WTF?!!” Long before that phrase made it into the official pantheon of words.
Being unable to carry off the Egyptian walk so successfully, my preferred technique was just to pick my nose or stick my tongue out or make some other inappropriate gesture. After we’d photobombed three hundred or so tourists, we got banned from that room. No matter, there were plenty of other worthy objects of our attention.
The Elgin Marbles was a tougher intellectual brief. Knowing that they had been damaged during misguided restoration using kitchen forks, the photographer would point the camera so that only the tops of the tourists’ heads would appear and the photobomber would be poking a fork above them from behind. How many of them would get the joke back home, I cannot not say. Quite a few didn’t appreciate our sense of humour at the time. There were a handful of ugly incidents.
Eventually, we got banned from the entire museum. The staff said that was simpler than having to deal with us. “It might be art,” said their top boss, “so take it to an art gallery.“