Ian Talbot: Retrospective – Aide Memoire :: My Father

Chapter 27 of the ongoing series Ian Talbot : Retrospective by British fine art photographer Ian Talbot.

Aide Memoire :: My Father

© Ian Talbot

“I long to have such a memorial of every being dear to me in the world. It is not merely the likeness which is precious in such cases but the association and the sense of nearness involved in the thing… the fact of the very shadow of the person lying there fixed forever!” Elizabeth Barrett, 1843

So said Elizabeth Barrett Browning in anticipation of the possibilities of the newly invented science (art?) of photography. I would suggest we now know better. Or at least so it seems to me. The photograph as an “aide memoire” is a somewhat more complex matter than it must have originally seemed to those eagerly awaiting the thrill of actually possessing, as Ms Barrett saw it, “the very shadow of the person” of their loved ones.

I made this portrait of my father around 1986, which means he would have been 70 at the time. This I know only by being able to date the image’s creation, there is no real clue to be gleaned just by looking at it. At best I would be able to place it somewhere in a 10 year window, to say he would have been around 65 to 75 years old. But more than that… I look at the image and it tells me nothing about the “essence” of my father’s being. It is merely, for me, one of those “photographs of a being before which one recalls less of that being than by merely thinking of him or her”, as Proust wrote. Neither does it entirely recall to my mind EXACTLY how he appeared at the time. After all, I took the photograph and I know how deceptive the various photographic devices and means I employed in making the portrait can be.

My father and I were very close, he was my best pal while he was alive and I suppose he will remain the best I ever had. I miss him. None of this feeling of loss do I get from looking at this image. It feels a little poignant but no more than that really. On the other hand, at his funeral I chose to be played “Beim Schlafengehen” from “Vier Letzte Lieder” by Richard Strauss. To this day I cannot listen to that particular piece without overwhelming feelings of sadness. I am close to tears, as I write this, just RECALLING it. This, of course, illustrates the power of association attached to music. Looking at the image, however… still nothing. So much for the photograph as an aide memoire.

As images go, in fact, I find far more poignancy in photographs of my father as a young man. I may even, in some strange way, identify with them. Certainly I feel a strange connection to these images of him from a time before the “fact” of my existence. Maybe it’s because they connect to the “fact” of his (now) non-existence.

Strangely enough for a photographer I rarely carry a camera and have never done so much. I have few photographs of the “events” in my life, family gatherings etc., always preferring to commit my “images” of such things to memory. Once a photographer by profession and now an “artist” by conviction, I suppose, I have never done it for “fun” as it were. Besides, photographs lie and my memory doesn’t… Does it?

    Ian Talbot

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