Friday, May 6, 2016

Celebrating the moment

Photographs represent attempts to stop time, which is why we get out our cameras on Christmas morning, at birthday parties, at family reunions and when children and pets do cute things more than we do at funeral homes and in hospital rooms. Some moments we want to stop more than others.

Anne Tyler seems to have this thought in mind when she uses photography as a metaphor in one of her earliest novels, The Tin Can Tree (1965). James, the designated photographer, twice takes photos at gatherings of friends and family. One is soon after the shocking death of little Janie Rose, when smiles prove hard to find. Later he tries again, more successfully, after Simon, Janie Rose's runaway brother, is found and returns home.

Simon feels ignored and unloved after his sister's death. His mother, who hardly even gets out of her bed, ignores him, leaving him in the care of Joan, a young adult relative with a crush on James. Meanwhile Joan herself feels unloved and unappreciated, as James devotes himself to Ansel, his hypochondriac brother. So she runs away, too, later returning with hardly anyone even noticing she had left, finding the party for Simon, the young prodigal, already in progress.

Other times, both past and future, and other places, where the grass appears more green, have their appeal. Yet Tyler's familiar but timeless message seems to be that what we have in this moment's photograph, the place where we are and the people we still have with us, can be worth celebrating.

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