Some people cling to photos. Cataloguing thousands of images, one after another. Because nothing’s as real as a moment seen through a view finder, exposed on film, framed haphazardly by quaking, transient hands. It seems more concrete, as if your life weren’t slipping away.
It’s just another place you could go and visit, when you’ve got the time.
Look at the picture,
This is still happening,
All is not lost.
You save the past.
It’s too easy to look at the behaviour of others and distance it from yourself. I have no photo albums to remind me of the good times. My personal albums are little more than a series of failures, punctuated by minor success, or accidents. They document nothing but internal states, the images themselves rarely of any worth beyond those chosen few, selected for paintings. I have no attachment to these photos, to the contents, but still, like a mad man I look through them. Perhaps I missed something?
Is there a shame in that?
I imagine it’s different for everyone. Some people are no doubt keen to revisit all those blurry compositions of grinning mouths, creeping fingers and cut off heads. A reframing of events as interstices between shutter clicks. A map of time’s passage, crudely drawn in awkward poses. This is helpful, the past is nebulous territory, it helps to have a guide.
We’re all lost in time.
What then, am I to make of this? A photograph that I have transcribed, painted for my grandmother, a picture of her father and I. I must be two or three in this photo, I have no memory of it taking place. Neither the setting or the man are familiar in any real sense. Of course, I remember my great-grandfather, but only in terms dictated by the image.
I remember being driven to his house. It was a long way, as all journeys are divorced from context.
A path leading toward a block of flats, the looming sky verging between bright sunlight and threatening apocalyptic clouds, no that can’t be right.
The carpet is orange, or maybe red, faded by hundreds of years. I can picture blinds as a concept but little more, glimpsed through a door, hanging above a sink. The wallpaper is brown and patterned, I can see this from the photo.
There’s a television, or maybe that was someone else’s house (An old man lives in a house similar to the house next door to the house that we haven’t moved into yet, I’m told this is a different man. I can’t make sense of the geography. He had a television. I remember the feel of the buttons beneath my fingers and the grooved knobs exposed by a broken panel.)
He’s sitting in a chair. He will always be sitting in a chair.
My great-grandfather died at 92, or was that the year someone else died? Do I remember when this photo was taken? Is this a memory of me, there, having this photo taken? Is this even the same place, or are two distinct locations bleeding together in time?
In terms of auto-biography, I am drawn to the significance of these questions, though I have no pressing desire to answer them definitively. As I grow older, it becomes increasingly apparent that the story of a life is continually being rewritten, moments of the past reappraised in light of new discoveries.
Did I lament the passing of my great-grandfather? Can I regret the death of a man I couldn’t know? To me, he is less a person, existing through time, intersecting at points, in moments with my own life and more an event, a singular, fixed occurrence, from which a life and connections are extrapolated. He is one event on which my own life is predicated.
Our past is not a list of events, nor a series of photos.