Photographs and Memory

My daughter sent me this photo this morning of Joshua, her first child, and my first grandchild. He will be three weeks old tomorrow, getting bigger and stronger I imagine, every day.

The photograph, I messaged her back on WhatsApp (this sixty year old is au fait, okay, with modern technology!) instantly reminded me of a very similar picture I’d taken, in black and white, of her older sister Kathy, when Kathy was a baby.

In those days, back in the eighties, not only did one photograph on film but I processed the black and white negatives and printed them myself. I knew what effect I wanted – I wanted the image to look as much as possible like a pencil sketch, and so I shot on fast film, probably Kodak Tri-X, and pushed it, maybe to 1600 ASA. Then I printed the photo as a high-key image, on matte paper, and voila! – a pencil sketch. The picture won a prize in a local photo contest, as I recall, in Umtata – the original print, mounted on board, must be still around somewhere, back in South Africa.

Of course, this is not about me, and not about Kathy: it’s about  Joshua, and his proud parents, and – yes, me, as a proud grandfather.

But I couldn’t help thinking, as I looked at the photo that Eve had sent me, and thought about how I’d immediately connected it to the photo of Kathy as a baby, how it is that certain images are linked in your memory: how they form part, as it were, of the emotional and mental space you inhabit. It was not just that the images related; it was that the experiences related, also, with the photos a kind of bridge between them. The experience of being a young parent; the sense of amazement and overwhelming love you feel for your infant; and not least at all, the sense, as a grandfather, of how the wheel has come full circle.

Nothing original, of course, in these ruminations. But that doesn’t make them any less real and meaningful.

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