Fly on the Wall

So here’s another metaphor (idiom?) that bugs me. At a  conference the accomplished, talented photojournalists talk about how they approach their subjects. They talk about how they want to fade into the background in order to capture candid moments. They want to be “like a fly on the wall.”

"La Dolce Vita" on a laptop

Their intent is good. The photographer doesn’t want to direct, pose or influence the story. They want to photograph reality as it happens. But the fly on the wall is such a bad metaphor.

Seriously, if you are sitting at the dinner table and there is a fly on the wall isn’t that really, really annoying? The most famous nickname for the most annoying photographers is paparazzi; a word legend says is an Italian slang for the annoying sound of a buzzing mosquito. (The phrase came from the Fellini film La Dolce Vita).

Back at the dinner table you swat the fly, turn back to your guests and start sharing stories again. I’d rather be the guest than the fly.


A bad metaphor is annoying or even baffling, but a good one has a lot of power. This TED conference video featuring James Geary talking about the power of metaphors is really good. (But I can’t pretend to fully understand his web site about aphorisms. )