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This Place I Call Home Whispers Fragments of Secrets to Me

“To love someone is to put yourself in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Rebecca Solnit


The pandemic reminded me that I take photographs because I do not want to forget. It also reminded me to take photographs to forget. With death so omnipresent these past two years, documenting the lives of my children at home has become a soulful preoccupation, a distraction amidst the dichotomy of serenity and restless urgency--a desire to gently cradle time, to slow it down before everything changes or, maybe, it is a desire to witness these changes and get lost in their youthful lives unfolding. Nonetheless, I feel I am in a battle with time. 

This place I call home whispers fragments of secrets to me. Shards of generations and their stories embed themselves into my Being. Echoes of love, sorrows, humour, betrayals, feuds quietly linger like fingerprints inside the grandfather clock or on old vases tucked away in a cupboard. I sometimes wonder if I were to sprinkle dust throughout this old house, would I find fingerprints of my children within fingerprints of my ancestors? A coexistence of DNA. Would I detect similarities? Family comparisons seem to be built into the family stories. The family lore.

I photograph not to forget. In the telling and retelling of my old family stories, and in the absence of photographs, words conjure images and images exist only in my imagination. Most of the existing photographs I have unearthed, in this ancient family house dated deeply in the 1800’s, are mainly shared moments of formalized gatherings, of occasions that are noted as significant parts of the milestones of life—birthdays, Christmases, weddings, christenings, graduations, formal family portraits and some travel logs. The images of my children are also borne out of the longing to have known the former generations outside of these mostly performative portraits. How did they respond to their lives off-stage? Who were they as teenagers navigating their world? Did they have pets whom they loved and told secrets? What were their childhoods like?

In contrast to all the daily visual minutiae of my children recorded, there are very few images of the last person to live in this house, my great aunt. Or, of the other generations for that matter. In my lifetime, I knew she had politely refused to be photographed. She had lived here her entire life, dying at 96, and there are barely any images of her in existence—one taken at a family wedding and one or two latterly in her life, surreptitiously stolen when she no longer could see so clearly. I have even found some old photographs where she has literally cut her head out of the image. I wonder why she didn’t just throw the photographs away rather than taking the time to painstakingly preserve the others and remove only herself. The irony is, she was the nuclear center of the family for several generations. Will any of my children, in their future selves, have the same compulsion? Albeit, their deletion will most likely be a simple press of the button and erasure of the whole image in seconds. An erasure of time. An erasure of the memory cues tied to these images. I take photographs to help me remember, and for the others to remember too.

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