Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Staring at Photographs

Sometimes I am mad at my digital camera. For capturing a life so full. And emptying it.

My parents have an old red suitcase. It has stainless steel snap locks and is red. And it spills over with pictures. From three decades ago. And every alternate year since.

One random sepia tinged picture where my mother looks thin as a reed and innocent as morning light. One tattered polaroid with my father and his friend staring straight into the camera with a fervor I cannot reproduce in my most inebriated moments. And no pictures for the next few years. One can only imagine the life that slipped past the image. Until it regroups again in another photograph; black and white and not so yellowed this time around. Many unidentified children of monochromatic clothes and white teeth. I am in the middle and my teeth are bright too. My dress looks black and white, but I know that it was red. As poppies. Red was all I wore then. Then in the next set, we all look grown up and everyone around me is too. My parents look grown up. Even though they were probably then as old as I am now. The years look as though they are flowing gently. In my memories and in these photographs. These capricious accounts. These sometimes memoirs.

To say that I am nostalgic for the past is an oversimplification. I do long for a past. But not for its experience, not for its lives. What I am attached to, sometimes melancholically, are the suddenly remembered images and textures of the past. A texture and an image that are never available to the present. One only sees the present in the future when it has already slipped into the past.

The present is meaningless, a mere jujube. The present is the realm of the tactile and can be lived by any distracted person.

(Do read: "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", Michael Taussig's "Tactility and Distraction" and Roland Barthes' "Camera Lucida")