My first thought was that the nose was too long, then peering closer I realised that the figure in the photo had a hand across part of her face at that moment, captured as she reached up to take a bite from the fairground snack that she was holding as she strode across the field. I squinted. I held up a finger to obscure the hand of the figure in the photo. And there was my mother at the fair, aged fourteen and a half.
She’s good at recognising people from photographs, however small or obscure. Often it’s the way people are standing that she notices, but she’s good at the detective work too. She was already thinking of another photo in which she might be wearing the same coat. “We didn’t take many photos in those days…” The picture of her trip to Norway (which has also been in the paper) is a contender, and another image too. “What I’m not sure about is what I’m holding. It’s not a purse… I think it might be my dad’s old Box Brownie.”
There was a little black and white photocopied image in the Hall Bower newsletter recently which caught my mother’s eye. She picked me out straight away, unclear though the image was. But the detective was baffled by something. “I’m sure that’s you,” she said, “but why would you be carrying a plastic bag?” This apparent evidence of such out-of-character behaviour cast a cloud of suspicion on a mother’s certainty, causing us both to wonder whether I might have a doppelganger. I knew I was there, but even so…
It was only on seeing the original colour image that I recognised the small off-white canvas bag with a bit of an orange pattern on it, then all became clear. It’s the bag that I was carrying my cameras in, my Panasonic Lumix and a Zoom Q4 digital video recorder. The technology may well have moved on a bit, but there’s something strikingly familiar in these two chance images – 64 years apart yet inseparable. Even the coats are almost the same. But I guess that’s no wonder. My green corduroy coat is an echo of the green mac that I used to wear at school and college, which has long since ceased to fit me, and which used to belong to my mother.
I wonder if the magic of chance images will be lost forever when the last analogue generation has grown old. And I wonder what that fourteen year old girl hoped for the future. She can’t have known anything that her life would hold. Can’t have known that we’d both be here looking at that photograph, a few days before my birthday in the year when one of us will become half the other’s age.
These two pictures are two sides of the same coin, flipped. I was born in April, her in September. And it’s me who is looking to the past.