Last week the theme was black and white and inspired by all those family photographs I decided to make a small montage of my own to celebrate World Photography Day, my family and something of the journey photography has taken through a family. So here it is:
I think it tells something of part of the story of photography, the quality of the photographs reflecting the quality of the cameras and printing of the time, but let me tell you who everyone is.
The black and white photograph top left is my maternal Granddad, taken during the war in his uniform. He was in Burma and never talked of it, he was a short man but stood tall and proud a poker straight back all his life. He loved to make things out of wood, was a motorbike fan of the first degree and loved to tinker with cars. He taught me how to swim in the sea, and how to ride a bike and passed on to me a passion for cars and justice.
Next with that cherub of a face peeking out from that white fur collar is my precious daughter, she loved that coat as much as I did, it had a matching muff and even once the weather was too warm for it she would insist on wearing it and her red wellingtons. I can’t recall what finally became of it, probably passed on to someone at the school gate as many things were. That photograph was taken up at Loch Melfort some 20 years ago this October, a very special place in my heart and an even more special person in my heart together in one snap.
Beside her is my mum, concentrating hard, early 80’s vintage this one. My mum is known throughout the family for her smiles, her laugh and her countless hugs, so seeing her so serious is something of a novel pose, but that particular week it was far from unusual. She, my father, my sister and I were taking our third canal holiday, this time my brother wasn’t with us (I have no idea where he was) and also this time it wasn’t in a canal boat. Mum had been learning to drive throughout all our childhood years and was trying again during this period, in fact I seem to recall she finally passed her test around this time. Anyway, my father decided that she could try to drive the boat, she drove it straight into a canal bridge! Not hard enough to do any damage, she had seen the catastrophe coming and had tried to stop and steer away, but hard enough for to give us all a shock. My father rather than the shout we were expecting, said “Well Ann, you better find reverse.” She continued to be chief helm the rest of the holiday, but every time she got behind the wheel the concentration was fierce and we were always shoo’ed away with a smile as a bridge approached. My mum taught me how to love totally and completely without condition and passed on a cooking instict that rarely fails me.
On the top right is my father with my son helping in the garden. The funny thing when I was looking through the photographs for one of dad was that 98% of them were of him either in some official pose, sleeping or eating. He was a busy man, a really busy man, busy all the time, he worked hard all day at home and away, all round the world. Then worked hard all evening and weekend looking after the house and garden, being on committees and work groups, when he wasn’t working to pay the bills. So maybe it was only when he ate, slept, or posed formally, he was still enough to catch in a photograph. I loved him dearly, still do, still miss him and guess I always will. We didn’t really understand each other until my late twenties I suppose, but then the way we used to be able to communicate with each other would freak my mother out. After he had his first couple of strokes and started to turn into a terrible three-year old, she would phone me up and say something like ‘I have been trying to get your father to put his coat on for the last 15 minutes, we are going to be late for the doctors, talk to him for me please.’ She would put him on the phone I would simply say ‘Put your coat on, Dad.’ He would do it as he chuckled, we never knew if he was playing games or simply the way I said it reminded him of his mother or someone else whose request he really thought really he should comply with. My father taught me that there is a right way and the best way and finally the wisdom to know the difference (I was maybe, okay no maybe about it, a little slow on picking up on that bit). This photograph was taken back in the late 80’s, probable the last time my son had a trowel in his hand, he is not the most green fingered of people, but there are other things that he has in abundance which make him the unique, special and lovable person who I am proud to call my son (well most of the time) and even though he moved out – supposedly this time for the last time – not even a month ago I miss him more than I would have thought. (btw I didn’t always dress them in red sheer coincidence.) I don’t know if son remembers or not (I should ask him, he doesn’t read the blog), but he and my dad used to be thick as thieves with noses pressed in books or playing on the carpet floor – something that mum said he never had the time to do with the three of us – the joy of grandchildren.
Below that is a very grainy picture of my brother, taking a picture of me taking a picture of him. Yes there are better photographs I could have chosen of him, but as the theme was World Photography Day I thought this one was apt, especially as he like me still has a passion for photography. He is also the one who holds the majority of the family photographs, I have but a few which came from my grandma’s private things after she died. There is a plea to him at the bottom of this post which I hope he can help me with.
The little photo in the centre is of my and my maternal grandmother the one whose vanity case with a pile of papers I was handed. My sister and I used to spend the summer holidays with our Grandma and Granddad in Devon. My sister, I am guessing, took this picture as there is matching one of her the other side of Grandma which I presume I took. Two things will always remind me of Grandma; mini coopers hers was racing green and pear drops which she used to keep in a tin on the shelf of the beach hut. We spent a lot of time at that hut in those summer days when the sun shone and the rain was so brief that the beach pebbles would dry and too hot to walk on once more within a hanful of minutes. I remember her swimming costume so clearly, the blue washed out by countless hours of sun and countless tiny daisies. She always made a lemon meringue pie, dressed a crab and pressed an ox tongue for when mum, dad and Big Brother arrived for the finally two weeks of the holiday, the pie and crab were for tea when they arrived. I will always remember her fishmonger telling me that the crab that moved the quickest would be the best meat as I would edge my way out the door as he raced them along the counter toward me. The ox tongue, which I hated then and still hate now, would have been sitting in a stone pot made for the purpose on the kitchen worktop with a pile of weights and a tea towel over it for the week that had elapsed since it stunk the house out being boiled before being skinned and rolled by Grandma as the two of us watched on with a mixture of fascination and disgust. She would also make Chelsea buns which were Granddad’s favourites which she would knowingly leave us too whilst still warm with ice-cream floats and then come back and say: “Sydney,” in a gently scolding tone, “your stomach has got used to all kinds of things like warm yeast, the girls have gentler stomachs and what with all that fizz as well.” Then she would laugh and squeeze in beside the three of us with her own feast of warm and cold. She taught me never to judge anyone, I don’t think I ever heard her say a bad word about anyone, expect that is my father after she in her later years moved in with mum and dad. Living with her daughter again reminded her of during the war when it had just been the two of them and she struggled with the fact there was a man in the house for there shouldn’t have been.
To the left is a picture of my sister and I taken in 1968, she is in the foreground and I am the one with the white hair! Yes it was that colour until at puberty it turned red for a while – sorry son it’s all my fault – before settling on mousey brown, my hope is that just like my Grandma my hair will go back to white in my dotage. The photo is taken in the garden of the house we grew up in, although I can not think for even a minute what we are trying to do with the garage doors. We were so very very lucky to have that garden, with its trees and vast areas of grass that would take my father all day to cut and us three childhoods to imagine and play in. There was a drive that circumnavigated the house which meant we could cycle round and round and hold races on bikes and scooters and whatever with our friends. Oh the hours we spent in its little noocks and crannies, up its trees, building snowmen, bouncing balls of walls, grazing knees, swinging so high on the vast metal swing that it felt as if we could simply fly right over the house and into the field across the road, or barring the dreaded BB from the summer-house which was for girls only!
Last picture, beneath and in the centre my two in the middle with my sister’s two either side. The most recent of all the photographs and the clarity of colours sings forth the next generation coming to the fore ‘C’ on the left will start her nursing degree at Herriot Watt University next month ‘J’ on the right is still at school. My two are out in the big bad world on their own. Well no that will never be the case for I will always be here for them – and they know it – and when I am not for that day will come, but not for a long time yet I hope, I know and trust that someone else will be there to love and care for them, to dry their tears and share their joys; plus they will always have each other.
Finally although the trip round the montage is complete a plea for my BB, four people are missing that I would have liked to be there. Nan, she was the person we knew as the fraternal grandmother, my Grandpa’s second wife, I was sure I had a picture of her taken outside her bungalow but can’t find it – she always smelt of lavender, what she didn’t know about gardening wasn’t worth knowing and she crocheted, both children had wonders created in love by her. Grandpa, the proudest English Scot I thought I would ever know – Hubby put Scots on his census form earlier this year so maybe he has stolen that crown. He was a Macfarlane to his marrow, he probably wore his kilt more in his lifetime than many a Scot ever did back then and maybe even more than many do now. His kilt I say, well yes and no, for while it will always be his, my father and my brother have worn it and now the person who wears it is my son. He wears it with just as much pride regardless of whether it is at a football stadium or for a wedding speech, Grandpa would have been so proud to know that at last the genes had returned true, a red-haired Scot through and through. His first wife, my father’s mother is someone else I don’t have a picture of and would love to. I never knew her although she did know me briefly before she died but in a special way she has always been with me. When we moved to Glasgow her rocking chair found a home in my bedroom. It had lived in her kitchen where apparently she would work and read and from which she would as my mum puts it ‘hold court from’. When I left home it came with me, I nursed my children on that chair, much as she did my father I guess. The last person that would complete that photo of photographs is Great Auntie Gladys. She lived in a Victorian terraced house within the smells of the Bournville factory in Birmingham before the days of renovation. We used to visit her on our way back home from Devon, the house she shared with Hilda May was full of wonderful old things that spell-bound me, stairs that I remember my mother complaining about and a kitchen that was really little more than a sink a pantry and a table with a couple of stools. While in the corner by the tap which just came out of the wall without a sink beneath a tub, brush and board, for they didn’t own a washing machine prefpering to wash their clothes as they always had. I have a silver and marcasite ring that once was hers and which I still occasionally wear, not worth tuppence in monetary terms but priceless in my eyes and heart. A couple of times I seem to recall that she came to visit us, I think dad drove down to bring her up, for I have in my head a vivid picture of her sitting in the rocking chair that once belonged to her sister and now belongs to me.
Photographs aren’t just for a day or even indeed for a lifetime but they can and always will be the stuff that records and brings back memories.