12 May 2013

Living in the past (4): odd couple

Like many of the negatives scanned so far, this one dates from the nineteen seventies.
I mentioned in the first "Living in the past" post that some of these photographs told stories about my relationships, including one “with a small piece of woodland”. This picture is part of that story and relationship ... but part, also, of another.
I have a whole series of negatives taken, like this one, of insects seen while lying flat in the long grass of clearings within that woodland. This one, of an odd couple sharing a grass stem, appealed to me particularly. I wasn't always interested in printing my negatives once I'd seen them ... but I made a lot of prints from this one, exploring its possibilities.
One of those explorations led me to make an intermediate lith film copy negative. Lith film (for anyone not familiar with it, or too young to remember it) was designed for production of photolithographic printing plates and yielded a very high contrast, almost pure black and white image with no intervening shades of grey. Since the original negative is fairly grainy, the greys were partly preserved as textures.
I was pleased with the result, and printed a 500 by 750 mm poster from it.
My father, at that time, was on a long and lonely nine month unaccompanied posting, far from my mother, on the fringes of the Arabian Sea (not a million miles, as it goes, from where my youngest brother now lives). I rolled up the poster, put it in a tube, and posted it to him.
Goodness knows what he thought, when the tube arrived in his billet and he opened it. Of all the things to receive, when far from home and hearth: a stylised poster of two ants. I had sent it, thinking back, because I was pleased with and proud of it, and wanted to show it; in retrospect, a pretty egocentric impulse.
But, when I next saw him, after his return, he had the poster amongst the things he had packed up and brought home with him. There were thumb tack holes in its corners, and traces of Blu Tack on the back. It was battered, torn and repaired in one place with adhesive tape. It had not just been kept; it had been put up on show in a hot bunk room, for months on end; when damaged, it had not been discarded but restored for continued display. It had not been left behind when he left; he had kept it, just as he kept things that I brought to him when I was a child.

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