A shareable truth

BBC News recently posted a piece on Facebook by picture editor Phil Coomes titled : «The Beauty of the Montreal Metro». The shots are dazzling and Chris Forsyth, the photographer who took them, is described as being «in one of the best places on earth as the Canadian city’s subway is known for its modernist architecture, with each station on the original network – now nearly 50 years old – designed by a different architect ».

I clicked on the piece because the chauvinist Montrealer in me couldn’t resist something that casts my home town in a favourable light.

Phil Coomes is right. There’s nothing like fresh eyes to see what you were once blind to.

I’m aware of having been altered by two things in the past year: the first is the IPhone I got for Christmas 2014 (clearly, I’m not an early adopter), and the other is my trip to London.

Having my own camera for the first time in years changed the way I experienced London. I’m very easily distracted by sounds and by people, but with my IPhone in hand, I was looking at my surroundings with more active eyes, in search of evocative sights: images designed for sharing on my Facebook page. Not selfies. Moments.

Fog over Mount Royal, Sherbrooke St., Montreal Photo taken by me
Fog over Mount Royal, Sherbrooke St., Montreal
Photo taken by me

For a while after I got back home, my vision was still very active. I was seeing my own city with tourists’ eyes.

Phil Coomes’ piece reminds me why recorded images matter.

When my firstborn twin sons were babies, I pointed my husband’s brand new Minolta 35 mm camera at them and shot rolls and rolls of film. It was that first documentary rush new parents experience; a strong desire to capture and preserve time itself, I think.

But my relationship with documentary photography and video changed as I changed. A series of personal losses, one deeply traumatic, led me to redefine my relationship with time. With the meaning of my lifetime.

My twin sons at 2 1/2. Halloween. Photo taken by me
My twin sons at 2 1/2.
Photo taken by me

I remember especially one day when my mum brought over a video she had taken of my twins when they were about 5. We popped the cassette into the VCR and suddenly there they were, these two chubby little boys with lovely faces. Hearing their soft high voices and distinctive way of speaking, and seeing them move and walk was like being transpierced. I remember gasping and bursting into tears. The overwhelming emotion I felt in that moment was of pain and loss. It was the feeling that no matter how wonderful they were in the present, those two incarnations of them were gone forever.

There was such clarity in that moment.

What followed was a period of letting go. Photos of Christian, my third son, remain carefully stored in boxes, but I have lost my zeal to curate every memory and identify every signpost. It’s enough for me to know that they’re there and that images of who he was—that boy who still lives inside my memory—exist.

Today, with my IPhone, shooting moving and still  images has become a way of occupying the moment so that I can then document it with words, and the subtle remove that they afford.

In the space my words create, my experiences live and speak a different, though still shareable  truth.

«Whether he is an artist or not, the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts. »—Walker Evans

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” —Anaïs Nin


2 thoughts on “A shareable truth

  1. You would understand why many Hospice patients may have a few, select photos of immediate family in their rooms, but for the most part, they always prefer to share their stories in words. Yes sometimes it’s due to loss of eyesight, but really it’s about conjuring up their own images rather than those capture in a particular moment. Photos usually make them cry; words engender a conversation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.