This is the first in a series of extracts from my book Listen To Your Footsteps, a collection of reflections and essays on fatherhood, identity, loss, creativity, etc
IN SOME quarters, as photography spreads across the world, photographs were feared because it was believed that they captured the spirit of the subject. We went from that to documenting our lives incessantly with photographs. If you want to see how far we have come, try explaining what photography looked like in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to a child who has grown up with cameras on just about any device.
There was the process of buying a film that could take either 12 or 24 photos, and the delicate act of putting it into the camera without exposing the film and therefore ruining the first couple of photos taken or wasting an entire roll because you didn’t put it in right. Pointing with your eye looking through the small window, framing your image and clicking the button, all the while hoping that what you are seeing is what comes out in the two or so weeks it would take for the photo shop to develop the pictures.
There was a certain anticipation, like the lead-up to Christmas when the gifts are under the tree but you have to wait for Christmas morning (in my family) to actually open them.
My father would come home with the developed pictures and we would stand around, immediately taken back to moments when the photos were actually taken. I was often the cameraman, so many a time I wouldn’t be in the actual picture, but knowing I was there without being there was a source of pride for me.
Photographs have always been special for me. The foundation of my relationship with my mother resided in the photo albums that she put together before her passing, her life frozen in a series of mainly black-and-white pictures from her childhood and colour snapshots of her life with my father and me.
For years, she was the woman in the photographs, without voice, without movement, without scent. I would often look at them and try to imagine what she was like. In the pictures with just the two of us, it has often felt as if there is a distance between that child and me, the child who had a loving mother ever-present in his life versus the man who has lived a lifetime without a mother. There is a picture of me when I was about one at what looks like a garden party in Uganda. I have it stuck on the wall above my desk in my home office. I am standing in the middle of a crowd of people, alone.
Others who have seen the picture have remarked that it looked like I was the centre of attraction. All I see is loneliness, perhaps because that loneliness has lingered for most of my life, like a bad taste remaining at the back of your mouth.
Perhaps, in all of this are the seeds of why I don’t enjoy having my picture taken, which has been aggravated in the time of the selfie. I prefer to take pictures. And Kweku is the same. After being a willing model as a toddler, the older he becomes, the harder it is to get him to be in front of the camera. I often have to beg, cajole or threaten. With all the pictures I take sitting in the cloud, I wonder what my children’s relationship with photographs will be. I do hope that they will house memories and be there for them to look back on our lives with a joy, without the melancholy that I have when looking at pictures of my mother, and now my father. My father didn’t take a lot of photos in his later years and now he too is frozen in time. As the distance in time grows since he passed, the memories of his voice, his handshake, his laughter, his scent, are all fading and all I have are the photographs.
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