By Clare McHugh
Once the image blooms, it can not be voided.
On the contact sheet, even the dark void—the unknown soldier of the set—puts its case to emerge from darkroom fluids or stay forever half-made.Six framed boxes like separate memories wait for photographer to order and make sense. Or for a future hand. But what order, what sense? The shots a child or teenager takes with a new camera. Or someone—hungry to get the money shot developed—finishing off the reel. Unframed, unfocused, uncentered. Click. Click. Click. Hope and half-formed notions to be claimed later.
What was Lin, Lincoln, linking? What was his main shot? A disappointment of trees and greyness? Did he wait for a figure and light on a parkland avenue and find it wanting?
It can’t be the books, looking as books looked for a hundred years. These ones put on notice about the coming age of colour print. The future pinned in front of them.A living room with signs of life, but not of the living. Sagging checked chairs barely vacated, suggest institution but only the institution of television.
Despite the Namatjira-style painting, with its wide hill and blowsy tree, the northern hemisphere hangs over the room as surely as the cuckoo clock’s dangling pendulum hangs over that desk. It is there in the mantled greeting cards, the cups and metal espresso pot that say deep, dense, coffee. Not tea, not instant grounds or chicory war-time substitute but a pungent beverage from another place, and a pot to make it.
A young child, soft and buttoned, draws the eye. Her blunt blondness and the pinkness of her dressing gown seep from the monochrome. One defiant hand on hip, the other bearing an object, hoisted prize-like, posing in front of the black and white television. At first click it is a helmet. But more clicks show otherwise. Once revealed, the black and white past cannot be remade on the contact sheet.
Did the photographer look for something particular, overlook as I first did, as I half-wish I now could? The hardly contained child in her frame a distracted afterthought.
Every coloured item turned to grey and grey on this sheet.
On first blink, that shape is a diving helmet. Click go the years. As she draws me in it is hard to look away from what she holds. Not a helmet. A kind of doll—an inflatable, calypso doll, although those are not the words used then—the kind sold at a long ago Royal Easter Show. A kewpie-style empire emporium import. An entrepreneur’s idea of a piccaninny with a bow-bone hairdo for hugging close by a girl.
Now that occluded frame gives up the detail. All becomes clear when it is clear what to look for. The girl’s jaw, the blunt line of hair, a soft drape, the goggling manufactured eyes, all visible from the clouded frame.
This is one of the photographer’s forgettable shots that cannot be forgotten once seen. Can not be preferred otherwise.
Look into the void at the girl, at her doll. Central. Focused. Framed.
Clare McHugh’s short fiction and nonfiction has been published in First (2006 and 2009), The Sound of Silence (2011) and Spineless Wonders’ anthology Small Wonder (2012). Clare was part of the 2013 Centenary of Canberra anthology project, The Invisible Thread, and co-ordinated the Out of Place author panel for RMIT’s nonfictionow! (Melbourne, 2012) and Canberra’s Bloom festival (2013). Her writing on young children and technology appears regularly on the blog, The Spoke.