Let this be over

There is a company that – for a
price – will take you and your loved ones for a day, treat you each like a
movie star, dress up your hair, pile on makeup and turn you into one. 
You bring along the best clothes
from your wardrobe, a sample of day wear, casual and evening wear, and the
various photos taken will be pitched at creating a certain image of you. 
Your best shots.  Your best foot forward, the you that
lies beneath, an exaggeration of you, a simulacrum, a Disneyland-like version
that you will never forget. 
Next week late afternoon on Tuesday
a photographer is coming to take family photographs.  It was intended as a gift to me from my husband and children
for my last birthday.  
I do not
intend that my family become a simulacrum, and yet there may be elements here. This photographer is not interested
in posed shots.  He wants us to go
about our business as though he were not there. 
The plan is we will have a picnic
in the local gardens in Burnley. 
We will take along a picnic blanket, a bottle or two of Prosecco, and
the sturdy champagne glasses.  We
will have some cheese and biscuits or maybe some cakes.
In other words, we will have a
picnic, which we rarely do, at least not in my recent memory.  We have family meals together often but
usually in someone’s house or backyard, or in a restaurant. We do not go out on picnics, at
least not en famille. 
Already my husband baulks at the
thought, not only for the fact of it – he does not enjoy stage managed events –
but also because it means he will need to leave work early and he’s only just
back there. 
The last time we had ‘professional’ family shots
taken was nineteen year ago after Christmas when my youngest was still a baby
and all my children were still very much children.
This photographer preferred to have
people pose and we wore our Sunday bests. 
This time we wear whatever we
like.  We will go as we are, but the
reality is we would not normally be in the Burnley gardens on a Tuesday
afternoon as an extended family, trying to freeze dry a few moments in time for
posterity. 
A few years ago I met a man at a
life writing conference, an older man who was exploring notions of disability relative to his son who had died at the age of 22 from muscular dystrophy. 
This man showed photos and talked
of Roland Barthe’s differentiation between what he calls punctum and studium. The latter studium is
visible in ordinary photos that reveal only the conventional, and where every event
is balanced such that it might represent a stable and predictable moment in
time;  this as opposed to punctum the element that
carries a sting, a punch, a sudden shock in one or another of its
components. 
Punctum can emerge not simply from the photo itself but from
our knowledge about the photo, which may come after we first viewed
it. 
This man showed two family
shots.  In one he is sitting in the
background, with his then wife in the foreground, in a wading pool.  She is dressed in bathers and holds her
18 month old son.  Their daughter,
seemingly a couple of years older than her brother is also in the wading
pool.  The daughter  sits to one side and is
smiling. A family photo that reflects the
seemingly benign and predictable.  
Then the man showed another photo in which his son’s disability was more
visible. 
Would we think so if we did not
know?  The little boy is stretched
out in the second photo as if caught in an awkward shift of body.  There is something in that shift that
bespeaks some sort of bodily spasticity, some awkwardness of tone, but if all of
this is punctum, we can surmise it only on
second sight.
I enjoy playing around with
photographs.  I enjoy taking them
and trying to interpret them, but I do not relish the thought of my family posed event where we will all be conscious of the camera’s eye marking us
forevermore in this way or that. 
Still I take to heart John Berger’s
words when he writes about photography:  
‘There is never a single approach
to something remembered.  The
remembered is not like a terminus at the end of the line.  Numerous approaches or stimuli converge
upon it and lead to it.  Words,
comparisons, signs need to create a context for the printed photograph in a
comparable way…A radical system has to be constructed around the photograph so
that it may be seen in terms which are simultaneously personal, political,
economic, dramatic, everyday and historic.’
And so our efforts to freeze dry
time must be considered similarly, a moment in time that leads from many
directions and will move out in many directions. 
And where will the punctum lie this time? The shock, the unexpected image that
will throw everything else into relief and tell us so much more than we might
otherwise see, like the crying baby above or the child whose eyes are closed –
she blinked.  They might well speak for all of
us that day.  

His plaything

The algae in the dog bowl grows
back as fast as I can clean it out, a dark green velvet on the base of his
otherwise blue bowl.  It has the
appearance of close shaved moss and when stirred up makes the water murky.  
I am vigilant about keeping up the
dog’s water supply.  Dogs unlike
cats need a constant and fresh supply. The dog has none of the cats’ ingenuity
in locating water. 
If only new ideas grew as readily
as algae, or at least fresh and good ideas, but they’re as hard to keep up with
as fresh water.  They take
effort.  At this time of the year,
so close to its beginning, I have run dry. 
My father came home with his first
television set when we lived in Healesville in a log cabin styled house nestled
in the valley off Myers Creek Road. 
Reception proved a problem in those days and it was necessary to fix an
aerial to the roof, stiff and angular like a scarecrow, but not a scarecrow to
scare off birds, rather a scarecrow that might draw in sounds and
frequencies.  
As well we had a
small portable aerial that sat either on top of the television itself or nearby
and needed constant adjusting whenever the picture began to run reel by reel
over and on top of itself. 
Sometimes one of us needed to hold the aerial in a particular way
throughout the entire movie to stop the picture on the screen from warping and
running on.  
The frustration of early television
watching was only matched by the pleasure of entering into this new black and
white world where people in the movies never seemed to bother with the trivia
of life like earning a living or going to the toilet.  
Why ever not? 
Why did these people in movie land not need things like toilets or
money?  They ate food occasionally,
or at least they gave some impression of eating in so far as they sat in front
of a table of food set for dinner but rarely did they hoe in.  
They reminded me of the nuns at school, those black robed women whose bodies were completely concealed under layers of
material.  They never ate or used
the toilet, or so I imagined as a child. 
Underneath their bodies were not like ours.  They did not therefore need to function as did we with eating
and elimination.  Nuns were
pure. 
Advertisements were the most
intriguing aspect of television in those days, the way the model, the beautiful, bright smiling, impeccable model might bite into a chocolate coated ice
cream.  
You could hear the crunch
of chocolate as it cracked but never a drip of ice cream dribbled down the model’s chin, and although she closed her mouth over the bite and smiled broadly as if
savouring the sweetness, I imagined a spittoon nearby into which she might spit
out the concoction, mostly because I had heard such advertisements take many
cuts to make and if she needed to eat all that ice cream over and over again she
would soon be sick.
By the time I reached adolescence
my imagination was caught up in the bodies of these actors.  The way a man might hold a beautiful
woman close to him to kiss her or to dance with her and she wore a backless dress.  His hot hand stroked up and down her
back.  I imagined him doing the
same to my back in horror.  My back
by then was lumpy with pimples. 
I spent my time comparing myself to
these on screen heroes and heroines imagining that no such life awaited
me.  I was too imperfect.  Too hungry, too spotty, too poor to be on screen. 
By the time we left Healesville and
moved to Canterbury, my TV tastes had changed from preferring a rich diet of
cartoons, only available in the late afternoon, to the midday movie which we
watched as often as possible while our father was away at work during school
holidays.
When our father was at home, he
commandeered the box.  He decided
on boring stuff, the equivalent of Meet the Press with Bob Santamaria or the News, but we preferred Disneyland with
its choice of destinations, Frontier land, Adventure land, Fantasy land, of
which trips into fantasy land usually in the form of cartoons or fairy tales was my
preferred destination. 
One day, I must have been around
thirteen years old and conscious of my body in a different way;  conscious that tiny breasts were
beginning to bud on my chest; conscious that I was beginning to outgrow my
clothes at a much faster rate; conscious that my underarms and pubic bone were
sheathed in fine hairs; and conscious of my father as he sat me on his lap in
front of the television. 
We were watching Brian Henderson’s Bandstand.  Singers and musicians
performed while my father played with the zipper at the back of my dress in unison to the music.
My father stank of alcohol and of
cigarettes as he rode the full length zip up and down so that my entire back
was one minute exposed the next covered. I wanted to get off his lap but felt
glued to the spot.
I wondered that my mother who sat
in a chair only inches away with her eyes fixed to the television set did not
notice my father, or not so much my father as my discomfort at what he was
doing. She smoked a cigarette, while tears rolled down my cheeks. 
Silent tears. I did not dare let my father know that I objected to his zip
pulling. 
It felt wrong, as if my father were
doing something he should not do, as if he were teasing me the way he liked to tease my
mother when he tried to take her apron off as she stood at the kitchen stove. 
When she pushed him away he
lurched for her and she pulled back. 
He ripped at her dress and tore the front half away from her body.  My mother stood in shock in her
petticoat.  Bits of dress fell to the floor and my father looked triumphant as if
he had exposed her at last. 
Was this what he was doing
here?  All this activity on the
television and my mind was a jumble of thoughts about the drama going on in our
lounge room, only no one could see but me and my father.  To this day I am
not sure how conscious he was of what he was doing, or of how he had made me
feel. 
I was his plaything.