I began thinking about my relationship with photography and how I utilised it's qualities. Putting this piece together made me explore the notion that, as a visual aid, a photograph, through it's mechanical nature of close representation, can allow us through sight to feel more definitely, accurately and directly than relying on just a memory alone. A memory can give us the sights, sounds, smells and emotions, but I started to contemplate whether having a visual aid can allow the eye to see, thus freeing up that part of the minds capability to focus on the other components of memory, strengthening that memory. If I was to take the concept a step further and was given a visual aid as well as the sounds within a memory, could it be possible for the remainder of the minds capacity to be utilised on the remaining components of the particular memory, enabling us to reconnect with the event more closely? A romantic proposition I admit.
I had to be realistic at this point and needed to consider the possibility for the photo of Mum not being there, and I needed to consider it thoroughly. If there was in fact no photograph, then would this whole process have been a pointless exercise?
On the surface it seemed so but after hours of contemplation, I started to realise the value of this whole episode:
This work has made me consider my relationship with the image and has helped me think further into the way in which the photograph can reopen a window in time in ones mind; not only showing a split second but re-presenting it to us so we can attempt to relive an experience in our mind. What a gift it is that the humble photograph, a graphic representation, can allow us simply to attempt reliving.
The process has also allowed me to explore my attachment to the image, how it is the visual representation that we look for first over any other representation of a time. I was also helped along through the grieving process by putting this work together and not only was I able to grieve in my own way, but I was able to slow the process down by stepping back, and consider the way I was grieving. Another merciful gift from Photography; as Bachelard wrote, "Passions simmer and resimmer in solitude".
This work also helped me re live the emotions felt at the time of taking the image I picture in my mind. The visual representation I could foresee helped me re-feel so many emotions: the sadness of clearing my Grandfather's belongings from a house I loved, knowing that it was to be lost from the family; the satisfaction of helping my Mother move on from from her Father's death and to help her work through a laborious event in her life; the happiness of being with my Mum for the day and the joy of being in a dear place on a hot Summer's day.
It also made me think fondly on the reconciliation and repair of our relationship in recent years, without it, I may have never come to appreciate the turnaround we made.
The idea of there not being an image of Mum on either film also helped me consider our separation in a new context: would this photograph have eased the separation? Could it have acted as a link between Mum and I? It felt like the image could have been a softener of the blow, a moment shared between us after her death, a link between the living and the dead.
As I swayed back and forth between practical and emotional states, I knew that deep down I wanted there to be just one photo of Mum. I sent off the films to be processed and was desperately clutching to the idea that I could experience a millisecond of having her back.
I returned home from work on a bitterly cold Friday night. As I stepped through my front door I was met with a package on the floor and I knew instantly what it was.
I didn't feel giddy or even daunted, and I felt no compulsion to tear it open right there in the doorway. Instead, I calmly picked it up and continued with my evening as usual, telling myself I'd open it over the weekend. My usual Friday night rituals took place as normal; a nice dinner with my girlfriend over a bottle of wine and relaxing after a week of work.
Late on, we went to bed and after hours of laying there, I was wide awake. I had tossed and turned for what seemed like days, unable to tear my mind away from the yet unopened package. Finally, enough was enough and I woke my girlfriend to tell her I was going to look at the films. She offered her support and compassionately suggested she should be there for me while I did, but this was something I needed to do alone. I stepped out, package in hand into another room.
I felt a combination of excitement and nervousness. All Photographers feel a tingle of both when you receive a batch of processed film, but these feelings were heightened as I considered the prospect of seeing Mum again. I sat alone, in my lounge, in the early hours wrapped in a blanket clutching the package. I paused before opening it to gain my composure and reconstruct my thoughts. Carefully, I opened the package and without looking at them, placed the individually sleeved sets of prints to my left. Taking the first batch, my eyes rolled speedily over each frame on the contact sheet on top. I scoured all four corner of each individual thumbnail to see if there was a glimmer of Mum and a glimmer of confirmation. My heart rose hastily at the sight of each frame, recognising parts of the house and moments in the day, only to sink at the instant I realised she wasn't there. Thirty-six times my heart stopped and started, all over the course of the few seconds it took me to digest the first contact sheet.
There was nothing. My heart sank deeply as I finished analysing the last frame only to rise again as I reached for the second set.
This moment presented me with one last chance, a redo, another life. I started to scan the second contact sheet, this time slowly, knowing the previous set was lost. I held the package pleading in my mind for something. Anything, I was desperate.
Staring at the second contact sheet I fell into each frame; shots of the day we'd spent at Grandad's, the house, the garden, the artefacts, the fire. Frame by frame, the day passed through my eyes and I was slowly running out of chances to have that new moment with Mum. I worked my way through them from top to bottom.
As I reached the last frame I found nothing. No Mum, no moment: nothing.
I sat there for a while. Silent. My mind bearing a torrent of emotions. All these feelings, sadness, anger, embarrassment, all reacting against each other.
Those dark few minutes felt like a reflection of Mum's death; so swift, so sudden, and over before I could do anything to stop it.
I quickly came to realise that this whole process was really about one thing: Me. It was wholly one way; I was hoping for a "moment" with my Mum, she wasn't getting a moment with me. It was completely selfish. Raging embarrassment consumed me and I began mentally punishing myself. My sense of selfishness exacerbated a brutal recognition of realism, my sheer stupidity. She wasn't actually going to be there. What was I thinking? There wasn't going to be a little section of time in her presence, it was just seeing. And what would seeing her actually do? Nothing.
For weeks before I'd sat there, in a quiet corner of my home to find out what was on or was not on those films, I'd told myself that if there wasn't a photo, then it's OK, this was all worth it. And yet I felt the most overwhelming sense of stupidity and shame. The image I'd taken was there in my head, I could see it, I could feel myself stood on the driveway, holding the camera, I knew the exact place I'd taken the photo. I could see the frame, the angles, the colours, even the position Mum was sat in, she was right there having the picnic. And yet it wasn't there. It had never existed.
I felt nothing for this piece of writing, it was all pointless now so why continue with it? The energy had gone. In those few moments I was again left without something that had meant so much to me and had given me so much positivity and hope.
It took me about a fortnight to get back into the right mind frame and decide to carry on with this, to not waste it all. I'd shunned it completely, but out of self embarrassment and shame. Things hadn't gone my way but I realised the process had opened my mind up to new ideas and feelings and new thoughts towards photography. I wouldn't have had these without doing this writing. My brother, for example; he didn't have this opportunity, and didn't have photography. Without photography, I wouldn't have even had the possibility of another moment with Mum.