Thursday, 7 April 2011

A Solitary Man

Dad                                  West Virginia 1989

Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes.  ~Gloria Naylor

I took this photograph on a family holiday to the US in the Autumn of 1989. I had been living in New York for nearly a year and my family came over to visit me and have a holiday. We were staying with friends in Gaithesburg, just outside Washington DC, so we decided to take a trip to West Virginia. It was a strange day. The town was eerily quiet and we saw few people considering the importance of the location in relation to US history. We took a walk down by the river and whilst my sisters, who were still quite young at the time, played on the river bank I took photos.

This particular shot was a total fluke. In those days I was still shooting in film so I had to be sure of what I was doing and Dad was not an easy person to photograph, so I had to snap when I got the opportunity. I love this image as it sums Dad up to a tee. Here he stands on the roots of a tree, perhaps his tree, the tree of all his knowledge (he was an academic), on the banks of a fast flowing river. The river always seems to me to be his life running fast and furiously past him, with never any hope of running the rapids and risking all in his pursuit of fulfillment. The tree blocks his view of the other side of the river; blocks what might have been from his vision. To view the other side of the river, the other side of his potential, might have swept him away downriver, away from the life that he was living, from the family he loved. He is contemplative and yet he seems resigned to his fate. I often wonder what he was thinking; it was a difficult time for him as he was having business problems on a scale to which we were totally oblivious. He was carrying all this worry by himself, partly out of duty, partly out of fear - if my mother had known what was really going on she'd have had a cow. He often kept things from her and over the years he communicated less and less, becoming solitary, distancing himself from the one person who would have helped him, no matter what.

When my father died I printed a copy of this photograph for both of my sisters  and it hangs in each of their respective homes. I don't have a copy on my walls; mine stays on the computer. I will hang one up one day, but not yet. I'm not ready. Not quite.

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