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May 31, 2014 § Leave a comment
There is a vibrancy to be found in the simplicity of black and white photographs. It is in the lack of colour that we find exactly the hues we should see; nuances of life distilled into a fiercely beautiful grayscale, forcing us to use them as prompts rather than as handicaps, urging our memories to remember the breath, the brilliance and the truth of the experience. There is a certain grace in allowing the viewer the privilege of imagination, letting them decide for themselves whether a shade of grey could have been scarlet, or if a shade of off-white corresponded to an ochre yellow; to have faith in the image, letting it drip colour through its monochromatic pores, immutably vivid. If a black and white photograph is boring to you, perhaps there was never much colour to begin with.
Maybe today. running my hands through my hair, scratching my nose twice, I looked around my room for that brown briefcase – the one I so carefully hid away. Rolling my eyes at my own redundancy, I knelt on the floor, lifting the drooping ear of my blanket away from my carpet and peering into the darkness.
There it was, sitting there, insolent in its silence. Grabbing the handle and sweeping it into the light of the morning, I paused – uncertain. It seemed innocent enough, a perfect leather rectangle on the faded teal of my bedroom floor, dust motes dancing a ballet on its surface. The sun shifted for a moment, and a flash of an old memory glanced off its metal clasp, making my eyes water. It was definitely time.
It was lighter than I remembered. My forearms flexed gently and I smirked to myself as I strode down the hallway, the briefcase tapping on the backs of my knees to the rhythm of the tinny muzak blaring from the PA system. Waiting for the lifts, I noticed a couple to the right of me trying to decide where to go for dinner, both unwilling to assert their opinion, both aggressively seeking to give in. I glanced at their adorably interlocking pinkies before gratefully watching the steel doors draw shut.
I breathed in the thickness of the shadows. No need for illumination here, the dark shapes were familiar masses, part of the amorphous blackness but sparkling with a subtle clarity. Finding a surface, I gingerly laid the briefcase on its back, released the catch and emptied its rustling contents. Snakes of film wound themselves through my fingers, cool to the touch but red-hot with nostalgia, imploring me not to, to just let them be, you know delusion is so much more seductive than reality. I sniffed and disentangled myself from the nest of vipers.
After preparing the developing agent and maintaining the temperature, I leaned back, watching the film hiss at me from their basins.
“I melted that night,” he laughed. “You looked beautiful.” A hundred mega-watt smiles, a thousand stolen glances, proliferating instances of adulation. Kisses and whispers stretch across an expanse, shrieking with laughter and light. All that glitters is indeed not gold, instead running into cold pools of pure silver.
I raised the film out of its filth, acknowledging the glistening crystals formed on its surface. How pretty.
Where is that stop-bath?
With an inexplicably growing hysteria, my eyes searched and fell upon the old culprit, amused at my desperation. Placing the film into its coaxing depths, the smell of vinegar pierced the musk and shot through my reverie.
Gnashing teeth spewing bile that lands on my skin and blistering, forms snarling pustules. Quick and hellish, the beast unlocks its case of glass orbs. Seemingly tender, beast and spheres engage in a waltz, ravishing me with their eyes, stepping in three four time, nightmarishly measured in its execution. All at once, the metronome stops, the beast’s pupils dilate, and the baubles come crashing down, staggered, splintering, shattering.
Fifteen to thirty seconds is all it takes to neutralize, the acid is strong. The frenetic buzz in my head has faded to a tranquil hum and I blink for what seems like forever before removing the film.
Sipping water as I spectated the dissolving process in the fixing-bath, I could almost hear the whine of each silver-halide crystal as they disappeared; all of them sirens, often mistaken for a choir.
“Do you want me to fix it?” Yes, I do. I beseech you, please. But how? Whose limbs are those? Please repeat the question over the sound of your word, unkept. Raise your voice louder, above the din of your uncharacteristic inebriation and roaring hypocrisy. Shout above the screeching pain that has come skidding into my heart and wipe away the marks of burnt rubber, I beg of you. I know whose legs those are. Actually, don’t speak, all I hear are cymbals. I hate cymbals.
Water, the great equaliser. It’s been an arduous process, but the chemicals must leave no trace, no scars. Washed and dried, I laid the film next to a pair of blunt black scissors that someone left behind. I picked them up, fully prepared to begin cutting the squares of film, but a wave of disgust crested in my stomach and in one swift motion, I retrieved my own pair of scissors from my bag and stood back up. Why was my heart beating so fast? Was it pounding or stuttering?
It was pounding.
One snip for kindness,
One snip for pride.
One snip for all the times I fought not to chide.
One snip for the good,
One snip for the cheers,
One snip for your complete disregard of my fears.
Two at a time, I’m picking up speed,
To think all this time I was standing knock-kneed –
Don’t ever forget, forget to remember,
The biting frost of that fateful December.
I tucked my hair behind my ears and collected the entrails. Sifting through my spoils carefully, I scooped them into a small ziplock bag.
The briefcase was near weightless, its gravity resting mostly in the soft leather of its body, but nothing more. Holding the ziplock in one hand and my new friend in the other, I nudged the door open with my hip and stepped out. I hurtled down the stairs – the lift seemed sluggish – and was met by the noise and effulgence of a lobby at noon. Slightly bleary-eyed, I pushed through throngs of merry families, loitering teenagers and yammering pantsuit-clad men and women.
As I walked home, a melancholy rumbling started in the hollow of my chest and unfurled itself through every strand of hair on my head; I could feel it rippling in the air behind me.
It took a darkroom to give me what I’d needed – a set of carefully curated negatives.
I still haven’t decided whether this photograph bores me.
April 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
Written a while ago, it came to mind again after hearing this beautiful cover of La Vie En Rose, which coincidentally serves as beautiful accompaniment.
Eyes glinting in the golden shafts of 3‘o’clock sunlight, sparkling with a hint of teasing wit; hair flying behind her like a cape of fluid mahogany, whipping across her cheeks as she whirled with breathless glee; this was how I remembered her.
I knew her from the house across from where my family would summer, and as the parents chatted about “how things were”, the children would be released into the capacity of freedom, and as our feet moved and our hearts started pounding, we knew that the holiday had started.
The first summer I met her, she was barely 15, dewy complexion and lithe figure, beckoning us to “run faster, faster!” as she tore through the field on the way to our swimming hole with absolute fractiousness.
One night, as I was passing by her house, I could just about see two figures swathed in the shadows of her porch. Hesitant to look for long, I quickly averted my eyes and concentrated on the fascinating crunch of gravel beneath my feet. Footsteps, however, barely masked the cacophony of giggling and heavy breathing that was gradually fading into the darkness.
The next summer, her hair was short. Beaming, she explained her new “punk look” as I nodded and smiled back. Playing chinese whispers with the younger ones, I smelled hints of smoke and brandy on her breath, but held my tongue. Perhaps I should have noticed her hems inching upwards, or the slow descent of her neckline, but in the moment, all that mattered was her presence.
Walking back to my room, I noticed her parents in our living room, eyes wide and fingers clutching glasses of champagne, animatedly describing something to mine. Later, I heard my mother come into my room, but only to stand in my doorway and sigh.
The following summer, everything had changed. Going swimming was “Whatever”, playing with the kids was a “Hell no” and her once engaging blue eyes seemed like glaciers of indifference. Peering at everyone from behind purple bags under her eyes, snarling when touched, this was not the same girl I’d met so long ago.
I asked her, once, when she’d want to die. Turning to me, her angular cheekbones formed a beveled v-shape to her thin red lips. “I want to die,” she said slowly, “when I am still beautiful enough for them to grieve.” To me, it seemed like this was past, but perhaps there was beauty in her youth, or some vestiges in her cliched decline into an adolescent stereotype.
The next morning, as I walked past our old haunt by the swimming hole, I wasn’t surprised to see her lifeless body hanging from a tree. I stood and stared as the wind swayed her torso and whistled through her hair, almost as if prompting her to get down and laugh.
Through the howls of her parents and the tears of both families, I realized that I only remembered her in all her childish glory, and that nothing that happened in the wake of consequent summers would change that. Cigarette smoke could only stay for so long, but she truly was a thing of beauty, and a thing of beauty is a joy forever.