Yeah, it was a very beautiful image there, with the weeds coming up through the keys … Lee Ranaldo to William S. Burroughs, 1997
he National Geographic of January 2000 contained a 5500-word article by Cathy Newman titled “The Enigma of Beauty”. It may seem to some of us that 5500 words would not even start to scratch the surface of such a subject. Nonetheless National Geographic’s spread, as is that publication’s wont, opened full of promise, with two double-page colour photographs, taken by Jody Cobb. The first was of Miss Universe 1998, Wendy Marcelle Fitzwilliam of
Trinidad, giving her breathtakingly bejewelled and befeathered national costume “a tiny tweak”. “Lesser mortals reach farther - and more strenuously - in an age-old quest to embody a beauty ideal as enticing as it is elusive”, read the article’s go-first. The second picture was of a man called Wes Wheeler, his back covered in what is mostly a brightly covered tattoo. Right there, between the shoulder blades, is a typewriter. “Getting the tattoo was painful,” Wheeler was quoted as saying. “But sometimes I look in the mirror and say, ‘Wow, that's beautiful, and it's on me’.”
Wheeler’s tattoo, which took 70 hours to complete, was actually a tribute to Stephen King’s novels, and to the left above the Underwood is Jack Nicholson’s manic “Here’s Johnny” face from the Stanley Kubrick movie of The Shining. No doubt the big, black typewriter was just part of what Wheeler saw as a human skin canvas of overall beauty. But among the worldwide typewriter collecting fraternity, the appeal in these machines is not always about just their rarity, their historic significance, their engineering design and its part in the 140-year technical development of the typewriter, or indeed their functionality. Sometimes it’s just the sheer beauty of the thing.