For some time now, I’ve been observing the differences between photography of the past and our practice of photography in the present.
Once I dug through my family history over a number of years, I became very excited by and treasured the discovery of old photographs. I have the same fascination with my father’s sheet music…stuff that was printed in the 1920s, in some cases, and is now archived between sleeves of acid free paper and protective coverings. These objects help me know who I am.
My mother and father are in this photograph. It captures one of many New Year’s Eve celebrations. My mother sewed her gown. It was a deep chocolate brown. It had an outside layer of netting on the skirt and the bodice was a rich satin. She wore a beautiful crinoline underneath. She made spaghetti straps with piping and edged the gown in golden sequins. Why do I remember the details? The days leading up to the event, I sat on Mom and Dad’s double bed and sorted through Mom’s jewelry box, while she sewed the dress on her treadle sewing machine, humming, a close distance from the bed.
My mother, in the arms of her grandmother, my Mamie…a woman she loved so dearly.
Photographs such as these, are timeless. They carry the collective memory of a family. They are endearing.
In today’s culture, there is such a vast and varied array of images that float in and out of social media and through our phones and devices that the experience of sitting down with a family album on one’s knee is a very rare experience. I think that this is, in some respects, unfortunate.
Some months ago, dear friends were sharing with me on this very subject, when a couple of photographs were pulled out, beautiful photographs of a Romanian relation, Reveca (also spelled Reveka). I decided right then and there that I wanted to use the image as a reference for a painting and this would be completed in time for November, and for Rebecca’s birthday. Yesterday was the day.
I sat in a comfy chair in their home and, later, moved onto the floor, pouring myself into the exploration of this woman’s face. I liked that for a good part of the time, the house was silent and no one was around. I liked that I could use paint to create an impression of this individual who loved, struggled and meant something to her family, such a long time ago. It turned out to be a glorious day. My friends returned to their home, fed me a home cooked meal and we laughed and chatted throughout the editing process. It was a wonderful experience!
Somehow, painting transcends the story that is captured in a photograph. I am grateful, in this life, that I have learned the real joy of painting. I remember well, words of my female mentors over the years and I hold them in my heart.
There are rarely any witnesses to what I do, when I do it…it was nice, this week, to have someone take a couple of photographs. Thanks, friends.