WRITERS PRIZE: 15 / MAR / 2022
THINGS TO DO WITH PHOTOGRAPHS
by Blaine O'Donnell
Individually, featherlight. Together, they are a weight in our house, the box casting shadows as the sun passes over the apples.
I know they are there, always, waiting in the crate, as we move in and out of rooms, seasons. I come home for a week when the trees are in blossom and the rain batters the petals down into the earth. Some of the albums have shifted. Has my mother been in here looking? Her life is another life entirely. I draw a diagram of our overlapping lives.
When everyone is elsewhere, I go back to the box of past happenings, the kaleidoscopic, overlapping mound of the camera's glances. A surfeit of existence has been gathered here, skimmed from the swim of things. I can not stop looking. I look at eyes looking into the future. I look at the family features appearing in faces. A gamut of facets. I look for their frst appearance, their most recent iteration.
In an urge to see everything at once, I attempt an arrangement, a chronology of C-prints.
I spend hours trying to identify dates. Using clues – there are candles on the cake, the apples are saplings – I place each image in sequence, making long lines that stretch for years throughout the house. But the dates are vague and unknowns add up. For all their detailed offerings, the pictures give so little. I turn them around and they close their eyes. I hold them sideways and they disappear. Only from the front is the full, mute insistence of the image visible.
As my timelines falter, the spaces on the floor widen. The time between exposures grows. It is minutes or sometimes weeks before the camera is held again. The weight of untaken pictures makes itself felt. How many moments of light do we hold here? How much of the time of our lives does the crate really contain? Hour of counting. My mathematics is inexact; the plastic cameras are long gone, and few noted their duration of intake. Estimating exposures, I arrive at an equation for the total time acquired, but the arithmatic is pitiful. There is little more than a minute here.
There is no accounting for the hours. There is no summation of days.
The problem of place arises. This box accomodates other geographies. How can I organise images of elsewhere when the house will not hold them?
In a vague inspiration, I decide to search for the home of photos. If I can pick up these images and bring them back to the place of their making, I could get closer to the moment, re-enter the event itself. If I can identify the season, the month, the week, I could fnd that point on the earth's orbit around the sun, return there and wait out the day for the precise alignment of this time and that time. I might not touch the past on its cycle, but there would be some comfort in the thinnest distance between this year and that year. I could at least feel the heat of the best possible proximity, the most attenuate closeness.
I did not know the solar system sits on the arm of a larger galaxy spinning in space. There is not enough time to wait out it's rotation. It too moves among other systems, ever larger, ever further away from the places we have been. I did not know the suburb is slowly shifting south on the Eurasian Plate. By the end of the sentence I am already elsewhere.
In a universe without reference point, I go back to the box. Its contents seem suddenly denser against the great loosening of things. I think of the future.
Are these images that rupture place and divide time exempt from the scheme of things?
As everything moves slowly away from everything else, will this rolling ball of photos coalesce into a centre? Or will this crate, held together, become a craft to be loosed into space when the contraction begins, so that these photographs, gathered, can travel as one to the end of the universe, and then, there, begin, in a spill of images, to finally disperse among the debris?
Image: Digital image (JPEG) scanned from Kodak ColorPlus 200 negative, exposed in Vivitar PN2011 fixed-focus panoramic camera, 2008, Derry, Northern Ireland.