Luca and Praying Mantis

Luca, with praying mantis toy, Sewanee, 2008.
Polaroid SX-70

I wonder about Memory and Photography. The two are linked, sure. Yet their relationship puzzles me. It is not as clear as this: ‘photographs are mementos, they remind us of the circumstances around the moment the picture was taken’. Nor is it simply that photographs stand as ‘evidence of an event’.

I find myself stepping aside and watching me looking at a photograph. This one. Luca, on the back porch, with a praying mantis. Oh, wait a minute. What compels me to look at this may not be the same as what compels you. You may not know this child, the location, the details of the artifact floating above the head. You may be attracted, and held, by the tonal and graphic qualities of the image, by the square. You may find the blurred, yet clear, eyes captivating. You may be fascinated by what causes that cluster of red (so much in contrast to the complimentary green) to be there, floating, just so.

I keep looking and observing myself looking. I see my son, from eleven years ago. I remember the moment I took the photograph, with a particular camera and film. The porch, our back porch is still there. As is the greenery beyond, almost identical to what I see now from the porch. Except now there is a 16 foot apple tree back there. And that hanging, tin praying mantis is still there, albeit rusty and no longer as colorful. But now, what is happening is more like how a butterfly hovers, flutters, spirals, settling here one moment, opening-closing-wing, then off to perform another aerial dance. Memory, like a butterfly, my memory, is not just one cluster. It is buoyant on this photographic field, parts float up, pop into the air, hover in clusters and settle here and there on the photograph. I cast a mist of memory particles at the photograph, and they condense into drops.

Also, simultaneously, in the same experience (see, it is not simple) I relish the blur, the face, the eyes, the red blobs, the green, the square, the saturation. I am stretched past my self, my memories, and into a parallel set of truths. It is a beautiful moment*

The photograph influences, but cannot determine, which memories alight on it. But, oh dear, this does not invalidate the memories that took flight but did not rest on the image. I am stretched past truth, into knowing that fact and error (unfact) are connected.

Photographs do not remind. I think that we bring remembrance to the act of looking at a photograph. Similarly, we bring the photograph to our present moment, to stand, as and when it suites, as evidence. Evidence. Corroboration. Photographic marks, gathering from mist into drops into puddles. Evidence.

* Elain Scarry, ‘On Beauty, and being just’: “…beautiful things…carry greetings from other worlds within them.” – see this review by Peter Benson

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