For those of you that don’t know, my current research is on the relationship between photography and law in the late Victorian period leading up to the 1920s when a law was passed banning photography from the courtroom. It is the history of the truth as the law as the truth fights it out with photography as the truth in the general field of representation.
Today, I decided to return to my favourite photograph of my mother as a young woman so that I could write a little something about it and share it with the world. Looking at a photograph and writing about it is one of the easiest ways to form original writing. The desire to place the photograph into a narrative is one of its most abiding features since the invention of photography and this narrative loquaciousness has been put to good use by tutors of creative writing.
This photograph is actually also one of my mother’s favourite photographs. She keeps it in a frame in her bedroom amongst just a few other photographs. The photograph is a typical specimen of its type, the family portrait. However, it is missing one of the key figures of the nuclear family, my father. He is actually the one holding the camera. My father was an amateur photographer and once had his own darkroom. The occasion, as can be seen clearly from the blue badge on the chest of my older brother, is a fifth birthday. I, who am in the bottom centre of the photograph, am about three and a half years old. The photograph is thus the commemoration of a personal milestone in a child’s age and reaffirms the importance of family and of documenting and making family memories, typical uses of the photograph. It is a prompt to familial memory. Indeed, it can be seen that the three children are wearing the family ‘uniform’ to emphasise their connection (the same thing happens in most of the other photographs up until we get to the age of about ten or eleven). There is also a formal grouping of connection: all involved are touching the next person along and touching at least two people.
While you can see from the photograph that I don’t have any contact with my mother, whose arms rest on the oldest and the youngest children, this is, as I have said, my favourite photograph of my mother when she was young. She is in her early twenties here.
Why is this my favourite photograph of her? There are a number of objections to the photograph as an aesthetic object. It can be seen clearly, for example, that no one in this photograph is smiling on the happy occasion. There are moody and sombre expressions on the faces of all. My mother isn’t giving me any attention and I also don’t particularly like what she is wearing and the clothes are out of fashion. The background also isn’t particularly exciting.
However, one aspect of why I like this photograph is because it is her role as mother that is emphasised since the relationship between her and us as her children is the subject of the photograph, of course. The photograph gives a hint of the protection of a mother for her children. There is also an implicit connection between the tree in the background and the figure of my mother. Just as the tree towers over all, my mother towers over the children. She appears powerful like the tree because her otherwise slim shoulders are emphasised by her scarf and her arms enfold all three of us at once with ease. Her face is most beautiful. The expression at the camera is full of confidence and relaxation as my mother is in the domestic element in which she is queen, with her own family. Indeed, the more I look at the photograph, the more I am convinced that the expression on her face is the brief moment before a smile of absolute happiness.