Susan Sontag once wrote that, “To collect photographs is to collect the world.”
I explore the collection of my world; family albums that are visual evidence of events, places, people and joys supposedly shared. To outsiders, they appear benign, banal even. An accumulation of clichés; of smiling faces and bodies positioned in front of houses, landscapes and monuments seen so repeatedly, that they are preserved purely for the pleasure and historical value of that family alone.
When I flip through this world, I feel scars being prodded and plucked. The photographs are banal, but decidedly not benign. Each image is evidence of that moment, but it will never translate the traces of what was; poses, postures and affectations ruthlessly performed to present the perfect ideal.
I squint into the sun with my brother, sister and parents, as we stand rigidly together in perpetuity for our family portrait. Faded to sepia, the nostalgic colour enhances our Sunday best. As our father’s mandate forces us to smile until the timer signals ‘cut’, my teeth flash in an attempt to disguise the anger, fights, and constant fear. But our domestic intimacy on display is as false as our expressions. The sole family portrait ever taken, it endures as evidence of happy relationships. In my world, smiles are lies – a broken family fraudulently on exhibit.
Next. Surrounded by a rainbow of tropical colours, I embrace my sweetheart on a white, sandy beach. The swaying palm trees and yawning blue water a familiar symbol of the consummate honeymoon. Snippets of friends and family sing in my ear as they praise my good fortune.
But it’s his whisper that defeats all others, “No-one will ever love you.”
A saccharine memento that presents a false fairy-tale.
Quickly I flip. Each keepsake ricocheting with increasing strength, tearing internal wounds irreparably open. I peer into a crevasse. My face reveals the thrill of being on the edge of something exciting and unknown – eternally poised for womanhood.
Yet, dread rears, as the hiss, “You know you want it,” materialises like smoke.
I slam this world shut.
Like a record, these prosaic portraits provide the soundtrack to my past – echoes that transcend time and place. These photographs will never say to others what they say to me. They endure as witness to a spectacle derived for a joyous facade, but not as witness to my reality. They tell stories that never existed.
Scars never disappear, but they itch to heal. I embark into a new world by burning these images – each hurt scattering as ashes in the breeze. Moving away from toxic fury, I go back to school in a new state, lonely but defiant. With each passing season, I delicately nurture my soul that had been battered into submission. New environments yield extraordinary relationships offering kind words and loving gestures. Compelled by good fortune, I begin a new album.
This is the world that will endure. It bears witness to moments that are authentic; moments that represent traces of love.