When Shooter Literary Magazine invited submissions for their Supernatural Edition, I was delighted to write something. During my MA Narrative module, I became interested in Victorian photography and was particularly intrigued by post-mortem photographs.
Extract from my reflective journal November 2014:
Lewis Carroll book arrived. His fascination with photographing young girls… Also researching Victorian post-mortem photography – described by some as morbid, but when you ‘ve experienced the pain of losing a child it’s not. Recognise Barthes punctum (in eyes) and similarity with picture of own daughter. Working on a piece – possibly a poem? Very messy at the moment…
This inspired me to write the poem, ‘That Look’. This is how I recorded the experience in my reflective commentary:
I poured through old family photographs, drawn to a Victorian photograph of my grandmother. I sensed the connection, although I didn’t recognise her as ‘child’- the look on her face. In Camera Lucida, Barthes differentiates between the subject context of a photograph – the studium, and any eidolon which may be emitted. This he calls the punctum: ‘that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)’.
Further research led me to a study of Victorian post-mortem photography. Seen by many as morbid, I recognised the punctum – uncanny and yet familiar, in the eyes of the bereaved parents, understanding the comfort such photographs provide. Free writing allowed me to explore similarities between these images and photographs of my daughter, taken with her dead sons. As a grandmother, I experienced double bereavement – the dreadful pain of losing twin grandsons, but also the loss of my daughter. Overnight she shifted and changed – joy, hope and innocence gone, she had grown up. As her mother, I felt utter helplessness – I couldn’t ‘make it better’. I have developed this writing into a poem using iambic pentameter:
That look! So proud, so defiant. Those eyes,
Exquisite in their sadness, made of steel.
Composed. All innocence and fear has passed.
Look at my child, she says, she was real.
The dead can live on in our memories.
But, taken too soon, there can be no smiles.
No anecdotes, no stories to be shared.
Love failed to keep her child alive and well.
Stone occupies the place her heart once lived.
Not morbid, though perhaps a little wild.
She treasures what she had for just one day.
Whilst camera captures image of her child.
My short story for Shooter Literary Magazine was also inspired by an old photo. Here is a short extract:
The next day, Helen began regretting her decision. Kira had not stopped looking at the wretched book. What was the attraction? It was just a lot of old photographs – village scenes, views of the countryside and people in old fashioned clothes standing sternly in staged family groups. Some of the sepia prints were faded, but one picture in particular had captured her daughter’s imagination. It was a little girl on a rope swing hanging from a tree. The child’s hair was in high bunches that fell to the shoulders of her lace-layered smock dress. Facing away from the lens, she was leaning back, allowing a glimpse of her face.
‘Can I have a swing like this, Mummy?’ Kira asked at least ten times.