When I started this blog in January 2006 I had no sense of what a blog was. It took me some years to finally settle on the idea that it was a bitácora (a lovely Spanish word that means a ship’s log or daily log). The point of writing a “Dear Diary” in the 21st century was anathema to me if I included the fact that I can barely read my own handwriting minutes after I have written anything.
Of late, in this 2021, I am unable to live the life of a widower without falling into terrible moments of melancholy.
Some people I know have hinted at the fact that I should not be so intimate about my thoughts. They may be half right. I link my blog to social media so my friends, relatives and unknowns have access to it. But if I wrote this blog, and only left it as an ancillary to my web page, then few would know of my thoughts these days.
I have come to discover that when I delve into my personal feeling I am learning not only to cope with the time that remains for me but also to learn new insights into my life as it progresses into an eventual oblivion.
Some years ago, for a show at a local gallery, I had a huge file of my granddaughter Rebecca which I worked on my monitor to remove dust and little flaws. I discovered that few of us ever get that close to anybody. I felt a degree of intimacy and I got to know Rebecca’s face in a detail that far surpassed the spotting of conventional 8x10 photographic prints.
In this 21st century we take photography for granted but today I have found something of that wonder that the first photographers of the 19th century might have discovered when looking at the first image they took of a human being. Such was the degree of wonder that a few of these photographers would, when allowed, placed their camera beside a dying person with the idea that they might capture (in a true 19th century usage and not the one used by digital photographers now) the precise second when the soul, that spark of life, left the person. We know that this failed.
In my first look at photographs taken by Timothy O’Sullivan during the American Civil War, at the Lincoln Library in Buenos Aires, when I was 8 or 9, I was in a state of shock/wonder that I was looking at individuals who had been alive when the photographs had been taken and now had been dead for 85 years. And amazingly these men, looked not much different from those that were walking outside on Calle Florida.
Perhaps that was the reason why I ultimately became a portrait photographer and why I have never been able to take a portrait for granted. Every portrait I take, even the bad ones, conveys the life of the person even if that spark is not seen to be leaving as those photographers of the 19th century failed to find.
Today is Sunday, March 7 and I have scanned 8 colour negatives of my Rosemary that I took early 1968 when we had been married for a couple of months. Until I took these photographs, my early pictures of her were in black and white. These negatives have deteriorated because colour negative is inherently unstable. There are colour shifts that I am unable to correct and the embedded dust particles (52 years!) means I have spent some long hours “fixing” them. I have saved them into my Family file as Rosemary 1968 sad 01, 02 and so on.
Nobody has ever seen these photographs. We were too poor in 1968 to order many prints. I took the photographs and had them commercially processed and then I filed them. Only now was I able to look at the digital contacts (I used my scanner) on my monitor.
I have been overwhelmed by thoughts of discovering Rosemary, to whom I was married for 52 years as if I had just met her the moment I have looked at these scans in the detail of a highly magnified monitor image. She looks familiar and yet not so. There is sadness, a wonderful sadness in these photographs that have made my eyes droop and water.
There is but one idea going through my head as I have looked at them. The first time I saw Rosemary it was from the back. I saw her walking out of the language school we were both working at (I did not know this as this rear view was my first glimpse of Rosemary). I noticed her lovely legs, particularly, as she was wearing an extra short mini-skirt. Her blonde hair was straight and long. I have no memory of my first glimpse of her face. I have no memory of what I said to her, if indeed I stopped her.
These photographs must then be a peek of what I must have experienced when she faced me.
Looking at these photographs is no different from those of the Civil War soldiers. They were alive. Rosemary was alive. She is no longer alive.
But the experience of looking at them now, after hours of fixing them, has its reward.
I have had the luck of meeting her for the first time, twice.