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Australia & Oceania, Memoir, UK & Republic of Ireland

Photography as a time machine

Jeffrey St, Edinburgh, Scotland © Sara Moss

When I was home on holidays during university, my Dad took me to visit a man he knew who was a keen photographer. I’ve a memory of approaching a simple, post-war single-storey house in a small Australian town with eager anticipation.

I was nearing the end of a journalism degree and attempting to delay my entrance to the ‘real world’ by continuing to study; word on the street and in the tertiary halls was marrying writing and photography would be a good career move. But I knew nothing about photography.

Sunlight shone onto a deep brown linoleum floor as the photographer’s wife disappeared into the kitchen to make tea by a window framed with lace curtains. Several bookshelves lined the walls of the living room and the photographer was keen on show and tell.

His story had a familiar echo: his father had given him his first camera – a box brownie – and he’d delighted in it. The taking of the photograph was just the beginning though. Hand processing film and the excitement of the instant an image first ghosts onto photographic paper being rocked in a developing tray, enthralled him for years.

A volley of albums was delivered from bookcase to dining table and a whole black and white history was divulged. The photographer’s wife smilingly delivered our tea, careful to keep it from flipping pages, possibly bemused at her husband’s animation. She was a plain woman, softened and made a little plump by the years.

A favourite emerged from the moments of the photographer’s life: a portrait of a beautiful 16-year-old girl, with long hair and eyelashes to make any model proud, was looking off-camera and slightly downwards, smiling and backlit by sunlight. It was his wife. “I love photography because it is a time machine.” The couple’s smiles were knowing.

Our cups of tea were finished. I took up photography too.

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