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
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
Punctum can emerge not simply from the photo itself but from
our knowledge about the photo, which may come after we first viewed
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
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.