I will start this with a quote by Kate Morton that I found absolutely gripping:
“It is a cruel, ironical art, photography. The dragging of captured moments into the future; moments that should have been allowed to be evaporate into the past; should exist only in memories, glimpsed through the fog of events that came after.”
I have an unabated desire for photographs. Whatever it is in me that feels an urgency to immortalise fragments of my reality is something I must have inherited from my mother. She sees it in me and had told me her mother was also the same way. So my love of photographs is quite literally in my blood.
I love documenting moments of happiness, of pain, of sadness. Documentation is everything. If we do not write, we forget.
“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence” - Ansel Adams
Your memory will never be as sharp as the pixels saved on your IPhone so even after 320 days have passed since I had a boyfriend, I have the most beautiful picture of me loosening his cornrows in Kigali. Immortalisation. I can no longer remember what his voice sounds like but the gap in his teeth remain immortalised in my Google Drive. Nothing lives forever, except pictures.
Let’s not be sappy and act like the only pictures I have are of me and lovers. Never that. I take pictures of everything. Of flowers, or funny looking cars, of our dog, of my father when he’s laughing, of the mesmerising Yorkshire countryside. More recently, I have discovered the power of picture therapy in reclaiming my body and affirming beauty of my form. This looks like taking pictures of me on my barest days. With my raggedy edges, stretchmarks, acne scarring I confront the barest version of me. And I make sure I associate her with pure unaltered beauty. It does wonders for me. Pictures have proven themselves immensely powerful to me.
Understanding the potency of pictures, it should not have come as a surprise to me when I saw a therapist after my break up last year and as part of my healing process she suggested I delete all my pictures of me with my ex. My refusal was instinctive and immediate. The ‘no’ tumbled from my mouth so quickly, even she was shocked. Even more than the quickness of the response was the force behind it. The indignation. I had just lost the love of my life, I was not about to lose the fragments of my old reality I was so desperately clinging unto. She did not argue with my refusal. She too knew the enormity of what she was asking of me. When we mourn things we can no longer have, glimpses of our past seem like pieces of gold. Yes I have lost you but here is this video of you cradling me and feeding me ice cream, maybe I haven’t lost you completely. Yes I have lost you but in this picture, our smiles are so wide, so luminous, they give the sun a run for its money. So there I was, holding on to memories of a dead thing, convincing myself that these trinkets were signs of life.
“All photographs are memento mori (reminders of the inevitability of death). To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt” -Susan Sontag
Writing this now, I have come to realise that my desire to immortalise moments through photographs is my subconscious surrender to mortality, to decay, to death. I take pictures because I know that one day, whatever it is that I have photographed will no longer exist, at least never in this form again. Be it my youth, my beauty, the sun being exactly the way it is such that the rays bounce off my eyelids in that specific way. Whatever I have captured will ultimately decay, but this picture will not.
It took me a month after my meeting with my therapist to delete most of my pictures. And even then, I had my favourites that I could not bring myself to delete. I had another conundrum lying ahead of me. These pictures I was deleting only existed on my phone. Throughout the duration of my relationship, I had created a digital paper trail of these same photographs all over my social media. Those ones felt like they were taunting me. Once bold declarations of my love and happiness, these images turned into triggers of emotional instability. To take care of myself and of my well being, I had to also get rid of these. I remember doing it and swearing that I would never post any lover publicly again. I was not going to put myself through this kind of higi haga again. Now I know different. I know that when I fall in love again, I will want to capture the light in his eyes when he seems my face. I know that I will organise corny photoshoots for the both of us to laugh at and cherish. I know that our love would be so beautiful, so poetic, it would have no choice but to be documented. And if it ends, I will handle it when that time comes. I have realised it would be unreasonable to suppress my love for photographs because I am afraid of endings. Endings will happen anyway. The least I can do is document my happiness with my love, it is quite literally in my blood.
When I think of the power of photographs, I think of the fact that I have never met my grandfather yet I know the exact contours of his face. How his cheeks are high and full like mine, the moles scattered along his neck, the deep brown of his skin, like weathered mahogany.
When I think of the power of photographs, I think of the 20th of December 2018, of being under the udala trees in Jibowu in the arms of my lover, one picture capturing the delirious happiness of two lovers who are now strangers.
When I think of the power of photographs, I realise that we are unimaginably lucky to experience such beautiful moments and to blessed with the means to etch them in permanence. We refuse to let the fear of the end, prevent present creations of beauty. We are not cowards.