Images as Windows into the Past

This week has been a bit of a photography week for me. I go through phases with taking photos. Sometimes all you can really be bothered with is a snapshot, nothing fancy, no poses, usually awful light, but hopefully you capture the instance, first steps or your little ones wearing a bucket on their head. Other times I get it right. I think about the composition, about the lighting and I take a zillion photos and just one will be perfect.

But when I look back over my albums, I don’t really mind which style the photo was taken in. I imagine other people prefer the pretty pictures but at the end of the day if my little girls are in shot then the magic is there and my memory of that moment is strengthened.

And it got me thinking about how much I rely on photos to bolster my memories and what it would be like not to have them. After all relatively speaking photography hasn’t been around that long and for a reasonable portion of that, photos would have been very formal occasions.

These two photos are of my relations on the day of their engagement. They had gone for a picture together but the photographer was shocked by the idea (or could see an opportunity for making more money) of an unmarried couple having their photograph taken together. See I come from a scandalous background.



But before photography was about, people would have had to rely on a painting or drawing to capture a loved one’s image. And if you’ve ever tried to draw a picture of someone you will know how difficult this can be. Our brains are programmed/designed to recognise faces. Just one tiny mistake and we can spot it. So if you wanted a good likeness you would have had to pay good money and most people aren’t going to do that very often. So you might end up with only a handful of decent images of a person over their lifetime.

I took a dozen photos of my girls yesterday. I can’t imagine being restricted like that.

But then again, one of the strongest mental images I have of my first born daughter is in the operating theatre where she was born. And there were no cameras there, so I know for sure I’m not confusing the original memory with the subsequent memories of frozen moments on film. And somehow knowing that makes that very special moment even more special.

The snippet below captures a moment between Edward and his prospective father-in-law Lord Lumley, Earl of Scarborough along with a painting of his late wife.

“Betty?” The Earl snorted into his drink sending ripples across the surface. Not enough to spill any though. “Name’s Elizabeth, named her after her mother. Always thought it was a beautiful name. She should be proud to have a name like that.”

Finally those two words back on the bridge made sense. Not Elizabeth. Not her mother. “I think Betty suits her. And perhaps she doesn’t care for the daily reminder of her mother, of your combined loss.”

“Reminder?” Incredulity raised the Earl’s eyebrows, disbelief brightening his tired eyes. Clearly, he was in no need of reminders, to forget was unthinkable. He lifted his arm, his glass already empty, and pointed at the painting above the mantelpiece. “That’s my wife up there. Betty’s the spitting image of her.”

Betty’s likeness stared back at him. She stood at the base of a sweeping staircase, her hand gracing the newel post, her head turned back as if someone had called her name. Sunlight caught the same auburn hair, the shimmering strands pulled back from her face, twisted into a Grecian knot. A single coil draped over one bare shoulder, the skin the same innocent porcelain, the skilful artistry managing to capture the inviting softness.  

“I want to marry her.” He breathed the words without thinking. So much for presenting a good front, he was practically salivating at the poor man’s dead wife.

About Jessica Baker

Mother, writer, DIYer View all posts by Jessica Baker

One response to “Images as Windows into the Past

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