This is an excerpt from my book Search for Silence.
When I was 18 my father passed away from a heart attack. It was very sudden, one day he was there, the next he was not. Several weeks later we got a call from Goodall Photo on Hargrave Street asking when he was going to come to pick up his camera.
Apparently he got this camera from somewhere and decided to have it repaired. It was always a difficult thing to explain that my father was no longer alive but I stumbled through and arranged to pick it up the next day.
Bob Goodall was a gem of a man. He carefully explained how the camera worked and would not let me pay for the repairs. He also gave me two rolls of film.
I kinda felt that my Dad had given me a gift. It was the middle of winter and I went to the Legislative Building grounds to take some pictures. I rushed back to Goodalls and was thrilled the next day to get my pictures. One of them (sadly long gone now) really struck me and I began to think that maybe this was something that I could do well.
The next day, I went to visit my girlfriend and took pictures of her as well.
They were awful, she hated them, and we broke up. I put the camera away and never touched another one for several years.
I was changed though, in Winnipeg nature mostly seemed to be something to be conquered or at least survived. It's very cold in the winter and hot in the summer. with trillions of mosquitoes lying in wait for you to enter their kill zone. But of course there is also great beauty and I began to see it.
Getting older is an interesting process and as GG's dad says, "it's not for the faint of heart." One thing I have notcied is that our past lives with us. For him and for many veterans of the Second World War, memories of the past have become increasingly more significant and tangible. One thing is certain, they have certainly become more vivid for him.
For me, I seem to be defined, to a certain extent, by my memories. The scary part is that I am less sure of them now than before.
I was talking to my sister a while ago, about the day that my dad died. This is an event that is vivid in my mind. It's almost as if it happened last week. Yet she and I remember it differently, we were together from the first moment til the ambulance left and yet there is so much that is different in the sequence and the acutal content of the events that I am left to wonder what really happened. I then spoke to my brother about it and his memory is different as well.
So over the last few years I have been asking myself how much of my memory has been altered and why that has happened. I know that everyone has their own experience of an event and that our memories are tempered by our attempts at rationalizing our experiences. I also find myself wondering what role photography plays in the contruction of our memories as I do believe that when it comes to family photography the truth of the image is not always apparent in the picture.
So here's a shot of me riding on my dad's shoulders, I have no memory of it beyond the image and yet there is something about it that speaks to me of my relationship with him.
On the other hand there are some images that speak beyond the borders of the frame. The following picture speaks volumes about my parents for me. I see so many things in the angle of my mom's head and the slope of my dad's shoulders. They should have been happy. The war was over, they were together again, starting a new life. It doesn't look that way though, does it?
So what I have done here it take a picture that I know little about and extrapolated my ideas on it. But I have to remember, they have little to do with reality, it's only a picture, a fragment of a complex history and really, there is no context, only questions if we care to ask them.
Ralph Gibson once told me, "context is everything".