Monday 21 February 2011

Observation of a Photograph

I have studied the picture so much now that the image seems to have burnt onto my mind. If I close my eyes I can see it. It is one of the most precious photos I possess. There are many photos that mean something to me. Photos of Mark, Laura and Sheree, of family parties, of me clinging doe eyed in the arms of past loves, pictures of faded beaches and school plays. They all blur into one massive timeline of meshed memories. Photos need explaining, if you ever get the opportunity, to loved ones and grandchildren. Otherwise what people are left with are albums of images that have no context, the smiling faces are left blank when the dots have not been connected. But maybe it is just that the really important photos, the ones that capture a moment so completely, are actually far rarer than that.
Karl’s favourite photo, the one of him emerging from the sea after scuba diving, the pose and look on his face, the moment emblazoned forever in print. You only need to look at that picture to know how he was feeling at the time. It makes me smile. My favourite photo, well, there are a few. But the one I have committed to memory, the one that means more than so many others, is one of my family. My direct family that is, my father and my mother, my paternal and maternal grandparents. From before me, before my sister.
The photo is black and white and careless exposure to sunlight has made the image even fainter. It was taken in my father’s parents, Doreen and Ken’s, living room. The participants are placed in corner of that room which leads to the staircase and to the front door (the one that was never used as a ‘front’ door.) My parents, Sue and Pete, are stood at the back. Doreen and Ken sit to the left hand side in front of them in carefully placed dining room chairs.  My mother’s parents, Marge and John, sit in similarly arranged chairs to the right hand side of the photo. It is weird seeing your bloodline laid out before you. My parents could not have been older than 21, 22 at the most, my grandparents in their forties and they all look, well, youthful. This photo has the effect of stripping back the years, and in each of their faces I can see a different aspect of myself. The ability to relate to them becomes easier as their constructions as ‘parents’ and ‘grandparents’, the older people you perceive them to be as a child, are subverted. What I see in this photo is the spark in each of them.
The first thing I notice about this photo is my parents. They are standing central in the picture, as if the world revolves around them alone. Sue and Pete look as in love as it is possible to be. Pete’s eyes are closed and his head turned into Sue’s. It has an air of intimacy about it which makes me feel surprise, such an open expression of emotion so rare for my father. To see him caught as a young man in love, breaks down his guard, it humanises him. Sue looks beautiful, her hand placed across her stomach, a gesture she still does now. A gesture I have only just noticed that I do too. It could be construed as a defensive pose, but I doubt it, as I know that this is what I do when I’m content.
Doreen. The look on her face in this photo I can only describe as mischievous. Her eyes that are like my Dad’s eyes, just like my eyes. Was she mischievous once? I think she could have been. I think I’ll never know. But I know that I have her eyes.
Marge. To me, she had that rosey sort of comely beauty, which I feel glows out from this photo. I hope I inherited even a little bit of that beauty. ‘Nana Adams’ she may be now, but not then, there is nothing remotely Nana-like about the lady in this picture.
Ken. I would love to say that he looks happy in this photo, or that he is smiling at least. But that is not the case. The most positive emotion I could equate to his expression is surprise, but honestly, he looks haunted. Which is to a certain extent how I remember him, so I guess it is fitting. Look at his posture though, and his build, so much like my Dad’s. The connections are all there if you look close enough to see them.
John. In this photo he looks to be life and soul of the party. Which is true, it was a facet of his personality. He could have sold ice to the Eskimos on a good day. I don’t know whether I share any of his charm, maybe on a very good day for me I do, on those rare occasions when my confidence outbalances my self doubt.
This is not a photo of ‘the people I love most in all the world.’ I’m not saying that they aren’t either. My family history, much like everybody else’s, is complex and damaged. But this is not what this photo represents for me. The image captures a moment. As the years progress, and death and further conflict will continue to divide these people from each other and me from them, this will remain. A snapshot of my origin. This photo exists in my hand and it is committed to memory, just in case I ever lose the image, so that I will never lose the image. It is stored in me, just as they are, and that is what this photo means to me.

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