Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Me and General Robert Lee

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Photograph


I took this photo last October, on a visit to Bull Island. I didn't pay much heed to it at first; it was just one of many that I took.

Then I chose it as the backdrop to my laptop screen. The more I looked at it the more it fascinated me. I took in the brooding clouds, the converging lines of ground and horizon and sea, the streaks of light and dark in the sand, the distinctive pensive melancholy of the seaside on a cold day....

But most of all, the dramatic details; the empty wooden table and bench in the foreground, with no picnickers or day-trippers or young families to fill it on that October day; the two figures together by the sea; and, dominating the picture, the lonely walker with his head down, type of so many similar figures walking along lonely shores in poetry, painting and cinema.

Who was he? What was he thinking of, at that moment? What is he doing now?

Nothing is hauting and evocative in quite the same way as photographs can be. And yet most of the photographs we take are too posed and stereotyped to really capture this special magic. In fact, the more artful the photo, the less likely it is that the magic will happen.

What I really value in photographs is usually what crept in by accident; the faraway look in the subject's eyes; the face in the background, not meant to be in the photo at all, rather spookily staring straight into the camera; the air of event, or non-event; the billboard in the background advertising a discontinued product.

The camera does not capture an event, it makes an event. And the eyes looking out of the picture are not looking into the camera, but into the future, perhaps a future those eyes will never see. I find that rather unsettling.

When I notice, really notice, a scene like the one in this picture, I reproach myself for missing the thousands of similar tableaux and scenes that must pass before my eyes every day. I have this idea that, if only I was imaginative enough, I would see a picture in every sight, a story in every event, a poem in every snatch of speech. What wealth of life slips through my fingers?

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