HOW LONG AGO - THIS REMEMBRANCE
(You are only truly alive when you live by the skin of your teeth).
Diary entry 7th April 1988: Leila induced last night @ 54cm - 11.45pm - baby girl - emergency cesarean section - delivered by Doctor Fish - 8lbs 10ozs - bet on Grand National – Rhyme and Reason – win £50 - lumber punctures and X rays for baby – food pumped directly into her stomach – doctors concerned that baby is not behaving normally.
A church step somewhere in the French Pyrenees. Medieval. Archival. On a day so hot I was worried that the top of her head might burn off. Eden my daughter. Eden as catalyst for my new beginning. Life before Eden and life after Eden. What was to become of me? Us? Her Joubert Syndrome meant that she was missing a bit of her cerebellum. Her brains.
I’d finished at the University and the thing that is a wholelife was in front of me. Us. And this remembering like the urge to tongue a wobbly milk tooth. Consuming. It takes me right back to when things are never clear. Not then. Not now. They never were.
There it is. There you have it. In the picture. In the frame. Fairly full to overflowing with the pain of notknowing. The philosophical, physiological, biological and historical pain of notknowing. Those elements, those autobiographical components that inform the whole. The corpus. Her body. This now part of my body (of work). Us.
The remembrances leap out at me again. Comes the pain, come to remind me of the heaviness of my step upon realising that the diagnosis for her condition meant that her life expectancy was not good. Was not long. She might soon be gone. Dead and cremated.
There she is. Was. Perched on the church steps. Barely two years old. Top girl on the top step, about to topple over. She leans into me and I kiss her. My kisses prevent her from falling. Falling back into the ambition and naïve determination to keep going. Me combatting the notknowing. This photograph, mysterious and potent, rendered into the very fabric of my existence. The pebble-dash of life. Photographs really are experience captured. The camera the muscly arm of consciousness. Firm but soft.
I consume her chubbiness, her woodsmoke smell, her strange pant and the way she has fists for hands. And then there are my arms, my fathers’ arms. My Deadads’ arms. Arms that once held me. Arms that had the hands on that beat me. Arms now longone. With them comes the memory; his arms had held her and in those moments (a discovery), as I realised that he too had compassion, had had the love for her. And suddenly I knew that I could forgive him. Immediately (not unconditionally), for much of the insanity that had infected my infancy.
You are only truly alive when you live by the skin of your teeth.
He had taught me. Or the hairs of your chinny chin chin. Forgive and forget. Three steps to heaven. Easier said than done. The punctum comes back to burn a hole in me.
What I do
I keep looking at my own life from different angles, keep trying to find new metaphors for the self and family. Poetry from documentary. Home movie from mundanity. And the only serious journey for me is deeper into the self. A pointless exercise guaranteed. Knowing that there is no way that I might ever begin to fully know, but I keep up the excavation. The keeptrying, the keeplooking, the keepremembering. Memory, around which the self orbits.
Wonderfully, painfully, memorable. Stalking my own image. Her image. There she is, sat on the step, waiting for the skies to come down. Through photographs, the world becomes a series of unrelated thunderstorms. Histories; past, present and future. A set of anecdotes and goings-on. Coordinates pulled hither and dither by the magnetic fields that are then barely read through the condensation of the compass. Images as fractured realities presented as manageable and obtuse recollections. It’s summer and I didn’t even have any pants on.
A trace element of a moment. Imprinted and engraved. I have the same photograph in my study, there is another in my mother’s flat and a fusty disintegrated photocopy hanging on for dear life above the settee in our Pyrenean hidey-hole. Geographically it connects me, spiritually it sustains me. Recollection abounds.
Proust somewhat misconstrues that photographs are not so much an instrument of memory as an invention of it or a replacement. Times arrow. Times gone. This wordsmithery always takes me to new lands. Hinterlands and Edgelands. Reaffirming a practice through the mapping and the recording. By hook or by crook and invariably getting things wrong.
It wasn’t a church step in the French Pyrenees it was outside a courthouse in the Spain.
The family, not fly-on-the-wall documentary, more a
frozen redemption. That moment clutched from the jaws of nothingness.
That moment put on its own pedestal of importance. Memory as the past
rewritten by the hand of feeling. And everything processed by memory is
fiction. Choosy, chancy and temperamental.
No history just autobiography.
Today it is possible for photography to work as prophecy for all of human memory. The distinction between private and public imagery has been transcended. Captured, amplified, distorted and disseminated. Facebook as The Family of Man. Social networking as the private gone public. The primitive now the new specialised professional.
I continue to splash around in the puddles of my own making, pushing out beyond the monologue of reading, offering up our image as sound track and music to my feeling.
Every time we come upon something existing, real, full, we want to have the bells rung, as on the occasion of great victories or great calamities.
With thanks to Susan Sontag, John Berger, Margaret Tait and E.M Ciroan
Hastings Old Town